Hong Kong Bureau Team, 2020 winner
The amazing work of Radio Free Asia’s Hong Kong Bureau Team enabled the network to cover the massive anti-extradition law protests that rocked the former British colony in 2019, bringing fresh, uncensored perspectives and objective, timely reporting to Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking audiences in Mainland China, as well as the territories. This in-depth, on-the-ground, and risky coverage, which ran counter to Chinese Communist Party narratives, would not have been possible without the incredible bravery and commitment of the small, roughly a dozen-member team of RFA’s Hong Kong bureau.
Background and Highlights
In June 2019, after more than 2 million people marched in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition law that would allow the rendition of criminal suspects to mainland China, RFA’s Hong Kong journalists hit the streets to cover events on the ground, putting their physical safety at risk to document clashes between protesters and police decked out in riot gear. RFA reporters spoke to protesters and lawmakers as demonstrations grew to encompass not just opposition to the extradition law, but also calls for the resignation of the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, investigations into police brutality, and a fully democratic Hong Kong. The hours of video reports and livestreams of protests that RFA produced attracted millions of views and tens of thousands of shares on Facebook and YouTube, and the Cantonese Service saw sharp increases in followers on both platforms.
Even as encounters between protesters and police grew increasingly confrontational, RFA’s staff on the ground in Hong Kong consistently entered the fray in order to understand developments first hand. This included in the aftermath of July protests in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long area, which turned bloody after unidentified thugs in white T-shirts attacked protesters. The Hong Kong staff of the Mandarin and Cantonese Service covered those incidents with live tweets and videos to provide real-time information to RFA’s audience. RFA’s Hong Kong team worked together with Master Control in Washington to run a 6 hour live video broadcast covering the key protest in Yuen Long, Hong Kong. Coordinating with MC in Washington, it was the first time that both services ran a live broadcast on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube simultaneously.
As they covered events on the ground, RFA reporters sustained injuries as they dealt with aggressive police tactics. RFA reporters on multiple occasions stationed themselves between lines of police and protesters, exposing themselves to tear gas and in one case excessive police use of pepper spray, which caused their skin to become severely inflamed. At one clash between protesters and police in late July, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas indiscriminately at journalists, causing one RFA reporter to suffer from fits of vomiting for days after. The same reporter, after witnessing at close range police beating crowds of protesters at length in July, suffered from depression and nightmares, and was afraid to read news updates for weeks after the event.
On July 18, RFA reporters broke an exclusive story that more than a dozen anti-extradition protesters who broke into Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) had fled to Taiwan to seek political asylum. The story was immediately picked up by almost all mainstream media outlets in Taiwan and Hong Kong, triggering responses from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Other highlights from the bureau’s coverage during the 2019 demonstrations included:
- Capturing on video an intense confrontation between protesters and police in front of Hong Kong police headquarters in June 2019. As a crowd of residents demanded the freedom of arrested protesters and an investigation into allegations of police abuse of power, one officer inside the HQ building responded by hurling verbal abuse at demonstrators. The video gained over 1.2 million views on Facebook alone.
- Ensuring video livestreams of the most important events of the summer were reaching RFA audiences. No matter the hour, staff were on the scene, streaming press conferences with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, nighttime confrontations between police and students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the original protests of the extradition law in early June, and more. Livestreams of protests remain among RFA Cantonese’s most watched videos on YouTube to date.
- Increasing RFA Cantonese’s Facebook following by 60 percent from June 1 to Sept. 1, 2019. In the same time period, the service’s YouTube subscriber count surged by nearly 50 percent thanks to close coverage of the summer’s protests.