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Weekly reads from CJR for March 11, 2021

Will Hong Kong’s Free Press Survive?

For twenty-three years, since the handover from British to Chinese rule, Hong Kong’s constitution has guaranteed its people democratic rights unique from the mainland: the right to free expression, the right to protest, and an independent court system. But the proposal of an authoritarian extradition bill in 2019 prompted fervent and ongoing pro-democracy, anti-Beijing protests—and China is no longer interested in showing patience. The crackdown has fallen hard. Over the past eight months, Hong Kong’s historically free press has been systematically dismantled in full public view. Elaine Yu, a freelance writer in Hong Kong, chronicles the changes through the eyes of six journalists covering their home city.

Beijing’s most aggressive assault to date came on June 30, 2020, with the passage of a new National Security Law. The provisions are sweeping and broadly defined, aimed at quashing dissent of any kind. “After enduring months of tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons, journalists have new concerns: raids, search warrants, and arrest,” Yu writes. Since then, equally significant shifts have taken place inside of newsrooms and within the minds of journalists. Yu reports that journalists are afraid of being visible to the authorities and refrain from pitching stories to conservative bosses. They speak of “internalized pressure.” By the end of Yu’s story, several of the outspoken reporters she covers have been removed from their newsrooms, and several more have quit in defiance of recently installed puppet leadership.

Alongside self-censorship, though, there is resilience. Hong Kong media’s fearless and adversarial character has always made the culture special. Tiffanie Leung, twenty-four, is just beginning her career. Her family urges her to study abroad, but she stays out late covering protests. “Personally, I think being a journalist in this grim era is even more meaningful,” she says.
––Camille Bromley, story editor


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