The Hong Kong government’s crackdown on the media has left a void for news — with one news outlet determined to fill it.
Founder Lam Yin-pong told VOA he started reNews after several media outlets were forced to close, following the enactment of Hong Kong’s Beijing-imposed national security law.
“Actually, it’s a one-man platform. I’m focusing on political news or news about politics and a little bit about court issues and depending on my own capacity some kind of interview and features about people that have been charged by the [Hong Kong] SAR [Special Administrative Region] government,” Lam said.
Plenty to cover
The 37-year-old from Hong Kong has been a journalist for most of his 16 years in the media industry. He’s had stints with Hong Kong Cable TV, Hong Kong Economic Times and Television Broadcast Limited (TVB), all before working for the now-defunct Stand News until its closure in December.
For reNews, Lam said he wants to fill the news space left by his former employer.
“My main audience is formerly of Stand News, Citizen News and Apple Daily because after 2022 we find a lot of people saying on the internet there is no news worth reading in Hong Kong. To me it is not that true, there are a lot of things happening in Hong Kong but there is a lack of trustworthy outlets and interesting angles to attract them,” he added.
Online news site Stand News was shut down after police officers raided its newsrooms as part of a sedition investigation. Independent news sites Citizen News and Mad Dog Daily soon followed in closing their outlets, citing uncertainty within the city.
In 2020, the Chinese government enacted a national security law in Hong Kong to prevent political dissent, and authorities have used the legislation to target the city’s media.
Although sedition is not among the offenses listed under the security law, recent court judgments have enabled authorities to use powers under the law to target suspects.
Determined to bring news back to Hong Kong, Lam aims to put out four reports per day, describing reNews as an online news outlet, rather than citizen journalism.
“I can’t cover every bit of news in the city, so I’m only focusing on a few pieces a day that I think are really important. I would like to repackage and reinterpret news for my audience, instead of [just] knowing what happened but knowing why,” he said.
For other new media publications focusing on Hong Kong, the risks of reporting within the city are still too great, forcing them to operate elsewhere.
Flow HK is a news magazine that launched in January and has headquarters in Taiwan. The publication runs online and has a quarterly print edition.
And Commons Hong Kong is an online platform based in Britain and Taiwan focusing on news of Hong Kong people overseas. It has a team of eight, some formerly from the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. It launched in October 2021.
A penalty of life
Apple Daily was forced to close last June after several of its executives were charged under the security law, prompting authorities to freeze the company’s financial assets, making the newspaper unable to pay its vendors and staff.
Jimmy Lai, the founder of the newspaper, has been in prison since the end of 2020. He faces three charges under the security law and could be sentenced to life in prison.
The wider impact of the media crackdown has seen journalists struggle to get their sources to speak on the record or at all. Some media outlets have avoided reporting on certain political angles altogether.
“Obviously the red line in Hong Kong — no one knows where it is. But there are some obvious red lines we cannot cross, like the advocacy for foreign sanctions or the Hong Kong independence movement,” Lam said.
“But on the other hand, it's important to tell people in the city that someone is working hard to try to uphold certain values in this place, like freedom of press and freedom of speech. After the closure of Stand News these last few months have been very quiet on the social media of Hong Kong.”
A fake news law?
Lam said he resisted founding reNews with other partners because he does not want anyone else facing potential investigations should the authorities come knocking one day. But he is also aware that reNews could be on borrowed time.
“I’m not trying to avoid any risk, I’m just trying to prolong the whole thing. And if anything bad happens — and I’m expecting that to happen in half a year — at least I can take all the responsibility myself and I won't put any harm to others,” Lam said.
The journalist is also aware that more laws could be coming to affect Hong Kong's press freedom.
The Hong Kong chief executive elections are scheduled May 8, with former chief of administration John Lee the only candidate to become the city's new leader.
Lee has previously made it known that a fake news law has been considered for Hong Kong, but journalists in the territory have raised their concerns that authorities may label any news as "fake" if they disapprove.
As for Lam, he still intends to report and wants more news outlets to launch like reNews.
“It’s impossible for Hong Kong to have such a large influential online platform ever again. So, what we should try to do is, the authorities won't allow such influential liberal media to ever exist again, so we better just break into little pieces and try to do our best on our own, try to fill up the gap together.
“I’m looking forward to more and more citizens, journalists and small platforms and altogether we can fill up the vacuum that is left,” he said.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders recently announced its World Press Freedom Index for 2022, with Hong Kong scoring a rank of 148, or near bottom of the 180 rated countries and territories.