New York Times to move digital operations out of HK amid security-law concerns

The international publisher will move part of its newsroom to Seoul.

The New York Times headquarters in New York. (Getty Images)
The New York Times headquarters in New York. (Getty Images)

New York Times will relocate its digital news operations from its Asia headquarters in Hong Kong to Seoul, according to a report from the Times itself. The report states that the move is related to a sweeping new national security-law that has "unsettled news organisations and created uncertainty about the city's prospects as a hub for journalism".

In a memo to staff on Tuesday, Times editors and executives who oversee the paper's international operations said: 

"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. We feel it is prudent to make contingency plans and begin to diversify our editing staff around the region. We have every intention of maintaining and even increasing our coverage of [Hong Kong's] transformation, as well as using it as a window on China."

Prior to the official announcement of the move, Campaign Asia-Pacific reached out to New York Times on Tuesday (July 14) to enquire about the impact of the security law on the US news organisation, and a spokesperson said:

"We are paying close attention to the recent security law changes in Hong Kong and the potential impact on our business. Hong Kong has been a leader in supporting the rights of a free press in Asia for decades and it is essential that it continues to do so, particularly given the treatment of members of the independent press within mainland China and the global nature of the coronavirus pandemic."

The report said that some Times employees in Hong Kong have faced challenges securing work permits. A third of staff in Hong Kong will move to Seoul over the next year, but staff covering the print edition, as well as advertising and marketing staff, will remain in Hong Kong.

China's security law—imposed two weeks ago—has resulted in confusion and uncertainty over news coverage of the city, including the mention of pro-independence slogans. For instance, news outlet RTHK, asterisked the word "liberate" in a tweet linking to its article on the banning of one slogan on Friday.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said the legislation uses wordings such as "whether or not by force or threat of force", "a person who incites, aiding or abetting" and "a person who advocates terrorism or incites the commission of a terrorist activity" in portions of the law relating to "secession", "subversion" and "terrorist activities".

The association said: "We are concerned that Hong Kong people will be easily found guilty by words and the press would be incriminated by reasons of 'inciting, aiding and abetting'."

An association survey of 150 members showed that 98% opposed the new law amid "fears of personal safety and self-censorship".

Tom Grundy, editor of the English-language Hong Kong Free Press, told The Guardian that the news outlet was taking steps to ensure its survival and the safety of sources. He said: "We expect to experience legal and bureaucratic terrorism in an effort to drain our resources, more than arrest or direct censorship—but we'll see."

A version of this story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

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