Facing bankruptcy, pro-democracy Hong Kong news channel calls for financial support


Channel C struggles to cover costs after trying to fill a void left by strict government censorship

Facing bankruptcy, pro-democracy Hong Kong news channel calls for financial support

The staff of “Channel C” explain the company’s current financial status during a live broadcast. Facing bankruptcy.

A social media news channel set up by former journalists from shuttered pro-democracy media outlets in Hong Kong has put out an emergency call for new subscribers, citing the imminent threat of bankruptcy.

Channel C, which was founded by former journalists from the Apple Daily and other pro-democracy news outlets forced to close amid aggressive “national security” investigations, used its Thursday night broadcast to announce a financial emergency, citing monthly running costs of around HK$600,000 (US$76,500).

If supporters are unable to raise enough money in the next month, the channel — which currently boasts an audience of some two million people across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — expects to shut down on July 12, two years after it was founded, it told viewers in an announcement.

At least eight pro-democracy news organizations have folded since Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, banning public criticism of the authorities as “subversive.” Police and prosecutors have also used colonial-era sedition laws to target some journalists and publications.

While Channel C commands the biggest audience among the handful of Cantonese pro-democracy news outlets still operating outside Hong Kong, its viewing figures have struggled to take off since its launch to a degree that would keep it solvent, multimedia production director Ronson Chan told Radio Free Asia.

Chan, who also heads the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, said the channel only had around 600 subscribers when it made the announcement, but had received offers of assistance from around 80 more sources in the wake of the announcement.

“We will definitely be able to keep going for this month and next, but it’s hard to say how things will be in 18 months from now,” Chan said. “It’s too far ahead to say.”

“If people aren’t able to keep us afloat, then we’ll have no choice [but to shut down],” he said. “There’s a limit to the number of times you can cry ’emergency,’ after all.”

Will they get support?

Current affairs commentator To Yiu-ming said the fact that many pro-democracy Hong Kongers are scattered around the world could make it hard for Channel C to hold all of their attention.

“Will they still care about current affairs in Hong Kong as much as they did back then [during the 2019 protest movement]?” To said. “Enough to support media like this?”

“There are a lot of independent outlets [for Hong Kongers] but they are all in different places, and they are trying to make themselves unique,” he said. “But they are all competing for the attention and support of the same group of Hong Kongers … overseas.”

“So it’s inevitable that they will run into difficulties.”

Since jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper was forced to close in 2021, when its assets were frozen by national security police, similarly independent and hard-hitting outfits like Stand News, FactWire and Citizen News have also been forced to close by the ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Former members of Hong Kong’s once-freewheeling press corps responded by launching their own media outlets aimed at covering the city from overseas, including The Chaser, Commons, Photon and Channel C.

They have warned that Hong Kong journalists still working in the city are being reduced to the status of government stenographers, as a climate of fear leads to widespread self-censorship.

To believes some independent outlets will survive, due to sheer dedication, however.

“These independent online media organizations really care about this, so I believe they’ll find a way to adapt … to meet the needs of their audiences,” he said. “The worst-case scenario will be that we see some mergers and reorganization.”

International press freedom groups say the ruling Chinese Communist Party under supreme leader Xi Jinping has “gutted” press freedom in the formerly freewheeling city amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the wake of the 2019 protest movement.

Meanwhile, journalists who fled the city continue to campaign for press freedom for the city from overseas.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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