After the Apple Tree Fell: The Exiled Photojournalist

Following the series of crackdowns targeting media, Hong Kong’s press freedom index has sunk to a new low, with journalists starting to feel pessimistic about the industry, questioning their effectiveness as “the fourth power”.

According to the Hong Kong Journalism Association, media workers gave press freedom a score of 26.2 out of 100 in 2022, down from 32.1 in 2021. That was the most drastic plunge since the association began compiling the index in 2013.

But even in the darkest of times, some still chose to hold on to the profession. Two years after Apple Daily’s shutdown, some decided to leave the industry they loved behind, while Kwan decided to struggle in the seemingly hopeless environment.

After Apple Daily’s shutdown, Kwan went to Stand News to continue his journey as a photojournalist, despite being fully aware that the closure of Stand News is just a matter of time.

“It’s like the last Promised Land, the last company where you can [cover news] freely in Hong Kong. I told the interviewers during the interview that, yes, I know the outlet would shut down soon, and I’m here to witness the wane of the industry. I didn’t plan to work as a full-time photojournalist anymore [after Stand News’ closure].”

A group of journalists covering Jimmy Lai’s case outside the Final Court of Appeal on February 1, 2021. (Photo credits: Celine Chan)

Despite anticipating the closure of Stand News in near future, the forced closure still came much earlier than he expected. The fated shutdown came just two months after he began working at Stand News, far from the six months he expected.

He still follows the reports of Stand New’s trial closely, though he said the trial didn’t incur his wrath.

I witnessed how absurd the court and the prosecutors are [in the Stand News trial]. Although we all know how this would end, we still have to go through all this. Apple Daily’s closure numbed my feelings, so I’m kinda used to it, maybe I’ll only feel the anger when they hand out the verdict.”

Kwan runs his own photojournalism account on Instagram, and continued posting photos onto his account after the series of crackdowns. He posts with the hashtag “#被休班的攝記 (the photojournalist forced to go off-duty)”, saying that he was forced to leave the job.

Although he still identifies himself as a news photographer and enjoyed working as one, Kwan said he wouldn’t proactively look for full-time photojournalist opportunities.

To Kwan, being able to cover a news event freely, without any censorship or constraint, is the most important criterion of a good news outlet. However, after the closure of Apple Daily and Stand News, Kwan is doubtful of the existence of such news outlets.

“They only report what Beijing and Hong Kong officials wanted them to, putting up a false show of peace and prosperity – but that’s not the reality – I want to report as the reality is.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by HLKP (@hlk_photo)

Despite having first-hand experience of media crackdown, Kwan still gave a three out of ten when he was asked to rate Hong Kong’s press freedom.

“I think the doom of press freedom would be when self-medias are also gone. They are still struggling and reporting within the limited room. There are lots of constraints and redlines, and you won’t expect the degree of freedom like before. I am in a very passive position, and I can only rely on these self-medias to struggle.”

Kwan is working as a freelance photojournalist at the moment, covering news for self-medias. He doesn’t know if the model of self-medias is sustainable, but he said he would try his best as other reporters are still struggling.

“I think passion is very important. The reality is that, the occupation is very underpaid, and the workload is really heavy. You may not even have holidays… Are you willing to sacrifice? How much are you willing to sacrifice? I think these are the questions young blood, and also myself, would have to think about. The future is going to be way worse than what we’re seeing now.”

Kwan said he will continue working as a freelance photojournalist, until the closure of self-medias sounds the death knell for all his hopes.

(Featured Image: Celine Chan)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: