The author is the head of the China Institute at the JoongAng Ilbo.
The media in Hong Kong is in a crisis ever since the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law was passed in the summer of 2020. After the Apple Daily stopped publishing in June 2021, the Stand News also stopped operation after being raided by the Hong Kong police at the end of last year.
At the beginning of the year, the Citizen News and Mad Dog Daily both announced their closure as they need to stay afloat. Four media outlets that China did not welcome have closed within half a year.
The media control of the Hong Kong government proceeds in two stages. The first is to frame an organization with “sedition” and the second is to “beat on fake news” through legislation. It sounds like the Hong Kong government is to play the role of the “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s 1984. The ministry oversees the media and determines which news is true. The Hong Kong authorities want to decide which reports by Hong Kong media are true.
There are also signs that major media organizations like Ming Pao and the South China Morning Post (SCMP) are shaking. In a recently-published column, Ming Pao stated that it does not have any intention of sedition. It is afraid of being picked on. In November 2021, there was a report that English newspaper SCMP is to be acquired by a Chinese state-run company. SCMP has been owned by Jack Ma’s Alibaba since 2015, but its fate is attracting attention as the Chinese authorities are not pleased with Alibaba’s control over the media.
But we need to pay more attention to the fact that the serial closure of media companies is not likely to end with local organizations. There are rumors that foreign correspondents and foreign media in Hong Kong will be the next targets. Since November, the Hong Kong government has sent 13 protest letters to foreign media outlets.
After the Wall Street Journal reported on the Hong Kong Legislative Council election and wrote that boycotting the election was the last means for Hong Kong citizens to express their political opinions, the city government was outraged and warned that the WSJ could violate Hong Kong laws.
Hong Kong is famous as an international financial center. What made it possible was the free flow of information, but those days are over. Since the Hong Kong Security Law was passed, the New York Times has relocated a part of its office operation to Seoul. It’s just a matter of time before other organizations follow suit.