The new head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Ronson Chan, said he expects greater self-censorship among local media, especially involving controversial stories, after the closure of Apple Daily and the arrest of its editorial writer.
The pro-democracy paper said on Wednesday that management made the decision to cease operations after taking into consideration the safety of its staff and manpower concerns.
Chan said Apple Daily's case showed that even when just one journalist is accused of a crime, the whole company could be affected.
He accused the authorities of imposing "speech crimes" in Hong Kong, pointing out that the writer is tasked only with writing critical editorial pieces for the paper.
"The writer's a member of the editorial side... not management. I think the situation gets worse and worse," Chan told reporters.
He said while there are no signs that other media organisations besides Apple Daily would be targeted by the authorities, he expects them to take the most conservative approach when dealing with contentious topics such as sanctions and independence.
"They may think that to play safe, the best thing to do is to not report [about these matters] at all," Chan said.
The HKJA chief called on the authorities to protect press freedom, which is enshrined in the Basic Law, so journalists can continue to do their job without fear.
An Apple Daily journalist also voiced fears that self-censorship will worsen after the paper folds.
She shared hugs with fellow reporters after attending her final government press conference as the paper's journalist.
Another staff member who worked in the paper's publishing department for 25 years said he's upset that the authorities had frozen some HK$18 million of assets of the media company, effectively stopping it from operating and paying wages.
"Even as the company's directors are accused of violating the national security law, workers shouldn't be affected," he said.
The demise of Apple Daily has also drawn concern internationally.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the paper's closure was a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
In a statement, he said the powers under the national security law were being used as a tool to curtail freedoms and punish dissent, rather than keep public order.
The European Union expressed similar concerns.
"The closure of Apple Daily's Hong Kong operations clearly shows how the national security law imposed by Beijing is being used to stifle freedom of the press and the free expression of opinions," a statement said.
"Its closing seriously undermines media freedom and pluralism, which are essential for any open and free society. The erosion of press freedom is also counter to Hong Kong's aspirations as an international business hub."
'Expect more self-censorship after Apple's demise'
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