The hashtag #journalismisnotacrime is a terrible choice. To begin with, it’s too long for a Twitter hashtag. It is hard to read unless you capitalise the first letter of each word. But #JournalismIsNotACrime looks odd – you shouldn’t allow a hashtag to consume 21/280 of your characters. Still #JournalismIsNotACrime is trending from time to time. Why?
When I first worked as a journalist, I didn’t realise the risk of the job. I remember how my friends from Colombia, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey reacted when they found out about my profession, raising their eyebrows and saying: “You’re doing a risky job.”
But what made it so daring? I recognised that journalism was a very dangerous profession in many countries, but I couldn’t really relate back then. I’d take a moment to explain that Hong Kong is not China; we are in the same country but have different systems. We have different languages, currencies, political, economic and social systems. We don’t have democracy yet, but we have our mini-constitution, which safeguards our freedoms.
Can I still confidently say that Hong Kong is not China? Most likely not. Not because of the sensitive nature of this subject under the National Security Law, but because Hong Kong is becoming China in terms of its crackdown on freedoms.
I began my career in journalism in 2012. President Wu Jintao paid a visit to Hong Kong that year. It was my first time covering the story of a top official, but the media officer said Wu wouldn’t take questions. Then a journalist asked him about June 4. The journalist was asking the question from the media area 10 meters away. He raised his voice to get his point across. Wu waved back, hearing but ignoring it. Then the journalist was detained by police and held until Wu left. That journalist was from Apple Daily.
Nine years later, as the National Security Law takes effect, Hong Kong’s press freedom has become a major concern. Now that journalist would not just be briefly detained. They would face a life sentence.
Soon after the Law was implemented in Hong Kong, The New York Times announced it would relocate part of its Hong Kong office to Seoul, citing concern over Hong Kong’s prospects as a hub for free journalism.
These fears were proven right. Within a year after the National Security Law was implemented, Apple Daily was forced to shut down. Its founder Jimmy Lai, together with his top management staff, have been arrested and are facing a life sentence. In a recent survey conducted by the FCC, over half of respondents said they had self-censored their work since the adoption of the Law, as they did not know where the government’s red lines were. It’s clear the National Security Law has imposed a chilling effect among journalists in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, journalism is now a crime.
The Hong Kong government has been aggressively weaponizing existing laws and regulations to target journalists. Last year, Choy Yuk-ling, a freelance producer for RTHK, was found guilty of making false statements to obtain public records for her work. Many other small policy changes have also limited journalists ability to do their job. For example, during the Hong Kong protest in 2019, the Hong Kong police said they would only recognise journalists who worked for outlets registered with the government or with prominent international news organisations. This new measure significantly hampered freelance journalists and the independent media.
More challenges are on the way. The Hong Kong government is now exploring legislation against “fake news”. According to the same FCC survey as above, 91% of respondents were concerned about a potential fake news law. So what comes next?
No one is born brave. Journalists are not superheroes. They might be a little more curious or persistent than the rest of us. But they are all human and they need your support. Read their articles, share their stories, and speak up for them when journalism is under attack. #JournalismIsNotACrime.
The author is a freelance Hong Kong reporter writing anonymously to protect their identity from the CCP.