HONG KONG – The New York Times said Tuesday it will transfer some of its staff out of Hong Kong because of uncertainties about practicing journalism in the Chinese territory under its newly imposed national security law.
The Times reported that it will move its digital team of journalists, about a third of its Hong Kong staff, to Seoul, South Korea, over the next year. Correspondents will remain to cover the city, it said.
Other departments, including print production, advertising and marketing staff, are expected to remain.
Hong Kong, which was handed over to China by the British in 1997, has long been seen as China’s last bastion of press freedom and is a base for many foreign news outlets reporting on Asia and mainland China.
But uncertainty about press freedom has followed Beijing's imposition of a security law on June 30 aimed at curbing dissent in the city after months of anti-government protests last year.
The law states that the Hong Kong government will “strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security” for a variety of institutions, including the media and internet.
The New York Times said some of its employees have faced challenges in securing work permits for Hong Kong, which until recently had rarely been an issue in the city and was an obstacle mostly faced by journalists working in mainland China.
“China’s sweeping new national security law in Hong Kong has created a lot of uncertainty about what the new rules will mean to our operation and our journalism,” the newspaper quoted management as saying in a memo to staff on Tuesday. “We feel it is prudent to make contingency plans and begin to diversify our editing staff around the region."
“Hong Kong has been a leader in supporting the rights of a free press in Asia for decades,” New York Times spokesperson Nicole Taylor said in a statement. She said it was “essential” that the city continues to do so, given how the independent press is treated in mainland China, and especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said there was no need to worry about the new law.
“Hong Kong citizens and foreign agencies and personnel in Hong Kong enjoy various rights and interests that are not affected in any way. As long as they abide by the law and report in accordance with the law and regulations, I don’t think there is any need to worry,” Hua said at a daily briefing.
The national security law is not the first time that press freedom in Hong Kong has come under scrutiny.
In 2018, Hong Kong denied Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet a working visa for chairing a talk involving a pro-independence figure. Later, Mallet was also denied entry into Hong Kong as a tourist.