HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP) - Hong Kong independent online publication Citizen News said on Monday (Jan 3) its decision to shut down was triggered by the closure of a pro-democracy media outlet last week following a police raid and seven arrests.
Stand News, a prominent pro-democracy news site, closed last week after 200 police officers raided its newsroom, froze its assets and arrested seven people on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious material.
Citizen News said on Sunday it will cease operations from Tuesday, describing the media environment in the city as "deteriorating", and citing the need to ensure the safety of its staff.
"The decision was made within a short period of time. The trigger point was the fate of Stand News," Mr Chris Yeung, chief writer at Citizen News and former president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, told reporters. "We could not rule out that...we might be exposed to some risks," he added.
“We have been trying our best not to violate any laws but we can no longer see clearly the lines of law enforcement and we can no longer feel safe to work,” said Mr Yeung, who is also Citizen News' co-founder.
Citizen News is one of the most popular online news outlets in Hong Kong with more than 800,000 social media followers. The crowdfunded non-partisan platform was founded in 2017 by a group of veteran journalists.
Mr Yeung said their newsroom had not been contacted by law enforcement but that they decided to close based on what they saw was happening to the media.
Chief editor Daisy Li said: “Can we work on some ‘safe news’? I don’t even know what is ‘safe news'."
Hong Kong has long been a regional and international media hub, even as the city’s press freedom ranking steadily slipped over the last decade.
But in the last 18 months, unprecedented changes have swept through the industry, primarily targeting local media.
Outspoken tabloid Apple Daily collapsed last year after its assets were frozen and key leaders arrested under a new national security law over the content it published.
Stand News closed last week after seven current and former members were arrested.
The company, its co-founder Chung Pui-kuen and last chief editor Patrick Lam were charged with “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” and were denied bail.
Hong Kong's government denies targeting the media and curbing freedoms in the global financial hub. China says rights advocacy is being used as an attempt to disrupt Hong Kong's progress after the security law restored stability.
With a few exceptions, remaining local outlets have increasingly toed the official line while new government appointees have turned public broadcaster RTHK into something more closely resembling China’s state media.
Many international media outlets still have Asia headquarters in Hong Kong including Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Economist and the Financial Times.
Others such as The New York Times and The Washington Post moved to or opened new Asia offices in South Korea because of the political situation in Hong Kong.
Last month, the Hong Kong administration threatened legal action against The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times for editorials critical of government policy.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said on Monday it was “deeply saddened and sorry” to hear of the Citizen News closure.
“Reputed as Asia’s world city, free flow of information and freedom of press are indispensable for Hong Kong,” the group wrote.