US-funded news outlet Radio Free Asia to withdraw from Hong Kong

Radio Free Asia’s report on the Article 23 legislation in Hong Kong on March 13, 2024. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP. Used with permission.

This report was written by Kelly Ho and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on March 14, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.

US funded-news outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA), which had been accused of being “anti-China” by Beijing-backed newspapers, is set to withdraw from Hong Kong, according to local media reports.

HK01 and the South China Morning Post, among others, reported on March 13 that RFA will cease operations in Hong Kong by the end of March. Some employees will be transferred to Taipei in Taiwan or Washington DC in the US, while others will be laid off, the reports said.

Citing internal sources, HK01 said that the company told staff that the media outlet would shut down the Hong Kong branch in late February when the consultation period of the domestic National Security Law, dubbed Article 23, ended. It currently has four full-time employees and three or four part-time workers, local media reported.

HKFP has reached out to RFA for confirmation and comment.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, RFA is one of five networks under the US Agency for Global Media, an independent agency of the US government, with an annual budget of USD 63 million. It launched its Cantonese service in 1998, delivering daily radio programmes and weekly webcasts.

RFA’s Code of Ethics states it shall remain independent of any political party, opposition group, exile organisation, or religious body and not advocate any political viewpoint.

RFA Cantonese Service Deputy Director Wu Lik-hon told online media outlet Flow HK in July last year that its Hong Kong branch only had some frontline junior reporters, photographers and technicians, who were responsible for producing news reports based on official sources.

More sensitive and critical reports on the Hong Kong government would be handled by RFA staff overseas, Wu told Flow HK in Cantonese:

 For example, for human rights news in the US, we primarily use a byline from the US, or we use a byline from our colleagues in Taiwan.

In January, the Hong Kong police slammed RFA for quoting self-exiled former lawmaker Ted Hui, saying US-funded media should not give a platform to “criminals who make false statements.”

The ex-legislator was quoted as saying that Rupert Dover, a British-born officer known for his role as a commander during the 2019 extradition bill unrest, owed Hongkongers an explanation for alleged police brutality on June 12, 2019.

That day, officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters gathered outside the Legislative Council to oppose the second reading of the controversial extradition bill that sparked the demonstrations.

RFA also came under fire by Beijing-backed newspapers, which accused it of having an “anti-China stance.” Wen Wei Po reported in August last year that RFA and another US-backed outlet, Voice of America (VOA) had produced reports “sensationalising” China’s military threat and spreading rumours about the Chinese military.

Ta Kung Pao also slammed RFA and VOA in January, saying they had produced a large amount of news “smearing China’s reputation.”

Li Jingjing, a reporter from China state-funded CGTN, sees the closing of the RFA Hong Kong office as the victory of the Article 23 legislation on X:

In February 2022, RFA suspended some Cantonese-language programmes and commentaries, citing concerns about press freedom in Hong Kong and the “red lines” of the national security law.

Hong Kong has plummeted in international press freedom indices since the onset of the security law. Watchdogs cite the arrest of journalists, raids on newsrooms and the closure of around ten media outlets, including Apple DailyStand News and Citizen News. Over 1,000 journalists have lost their jobs, whilst many have emigrated. Meanwhile, the city’s government-funded broadcaster RTHK has adopted new editorial guidelines, purged its archives and axed news and satirical shows.

In 2022, Chief Executive John Lee said press freedom was “in the pocket” of Hongkongers, but “nobody is above the law.” Although he has told the press to “tell a good Hong Kong story,” government departments have been reluctant to respond to story pitches.

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