In regions without free press, or where press are under constant threat of arrest, why don't media organisations move their organisation outside the country on which they report?

For example, if Hong Kong's Apple Daily moved to any of a number of other countries, they would not be easily raided.

Is this a 'legacy' effect, where long-standing newspapers and media organisations have too-strong regional ties, or perhaps simply that the technology required didn't previously exist (and if it is just these factors, have newer, more modern media organisations started to offshore their work to protect themselves) or is there more to it?

  • 75
    If the printing presses are located outside the country, how would they achieve timely delivery to their subscribers without the printed copies being seized on entry?
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 15:55
  • 3
    @RickSmith Content could be made outside the country being reported on, disseminated online as the media org is probably already doing, and for physical copies send a file to the printer (as I'd guess they already do).
    – stevec
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 15:59
  • 27
    @stevec Have you heard of the Great Firewall of China? Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 20:18
  • 16
    If Apple Daily moved to the U.S., say, it would then be perceived as being a foreign newspaper.
    – PatrickT
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 10:07
  • 20
    It's worth noting that this is exactly what some Russian media (e.g. Meduza) have done, moving their offices to neighboring countries and distributing news electronically. However, you really do need data from on-site reporters who might be subject to restrictions and/or detained if the local regime wants to. "Radio Free Europe" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Free_Europe/Radio_Liberty) broadcasting towards USSR is also a relevant example from the Cold War..
    – Peteris
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 17:12

6 Answers 6

  1. A news company is mostly its employees. Who also have a personal life. Or who might be subject to travel restrictions. When you move your operation to a different country, then you will have to leave most of the employees behind and hire new ones. That means losing all your expertise, all your operational routine and all the personal contacts between reporters and sources.
  2. Don't underestimate the importance of proximity. Even in the 21st century. When your market niche is to report about what happens in Hong Kong, then you need people in Hong Kong. How else would you perform investigative journalism? Sure, you could have a hand full of personnel who are on-site while most of the editorial work happens in your back-office somewhere else. But one of the first things oppressive governments do when things start to get tense is to kick out or black out foreign journalists. And without a local office serving as a "safe house" for them to retreat to, they are even more vulnerable.
  3. The regime itself might not let you. Having a couple of "free" media outlets around looks good for your international democracy score. So if you leave, they will likely replace you with a new media outlet. One which won't have any of your journalistic integrity which annoyed the regime so much and none of the few freedoms you fought so hard for.
  4. Being the target of government suppression can actually be good for business. Each time the Apple Daily was raided by the Chinese police, their number of readers soared upwards. This is called the Streisand Effect. When people hear that "they" want to suppress some knowledge, then people get even more interested in that knowledge.
  • 29
    If anything, items 1 and 2 understate the value of being present in the community where news is happening, of being able to go to a location and see what is going on or talk to people who've witnessed events. Smart phones and social media will only help you so far. Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 20:43
  • 6
    Informants may also be unwilling to leave the country regularly to communicate since that's highly visible to the government, and only trust communication face to face or via dead drop. Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 23:12
  • 2
    Another reason is ads: if the newspaper is funded by ads targeted at residents of a country (even from abroad), the government can punish advertisers for collaborating with a “rogue” media. The advertisers won’t want to put their business at risk; they will rather buy ad placements in a state-approved media. Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 11:41

Source: I am an American living in China.

Philipp's answer is great, but I'd like to add something about VPNs.

As many of you know, a VPN allows you to (at least most of the time) bypass whichever firewall which might be in the closed country. This will allow you to access any news sites that are open in other countries' internet.

There is a HUGE problem with doing this: legality and accessibility of VPNs.

Legality: In China (I can't really speak to other countries), they are not always legal. They are used by many foreigners, and some local Chinese people, but the government can penalize use of them.

Couple of stories (if anyone has a link I'd appreciate it):

  1. (hearsay) A foreigner normally uses a VPN, but all of a sudden, his phone will not connect to the internet at all. He has plenty of data, and he's paid his phone bill. The government contacts him and asks him to surrender his phone temporarily. They return the phone, and to his surprise his VPN(s) have been deleted.

  2. A Chinese national (via their VPN) hears another Chinese national discussing the Government in a negative light on Youtube, and contacts the authorities. The reporting national gets fined a large amount.

  3. A foreigner put a VPN on a Chinese national's computer, and the national downloaded pornography (possessing pornography is illegal in China) onto his machine. The Chinese government put the foreigner into prison.

These are not necessarily isolated incidents, but something that happens quite frequently.

Accessibility: the Chinese government recognizes the utility of VPNs (particularly software engineers and people learning English for example), and there are "government approved VPNs" that are free and that people can use. However, these report the web activity to the government, and still block certain websites defeating the point of a VPN.

The common western owned VPNs are "allowed", but are not approved for that reason. One has to be careful at times when using one, and the service tends to not work as well when there is a political event involving China or its allies.

So yes, some people use VPNs but it's pretty rare. Most people do not, and have no interest in hearing news that is from outside China. I would assume in other closed countries, it's relatively similar.

  • 1
    "The reporting national", do you mean the reported national instead? Because otherwise, I don't see why people would report it (or do social credit score worth the fine?)
    – Martheen
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 8:53
  • 17
    @Martheen I think they actually meant the reporting national -- the person who filed the complaint. I think what Thomas is saying is that by reporting this content, you're admitting you have access to that content, and the only way to have access to it is to try to bypass the chinese firewalls, and that's punishable.
    – TKoL
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 15:04
  • 15
    Great answer that highlights an important point - a common feature in more authoritarian countries there are lots of laws which are commonly broken and selectively enforced. That way if the government doesn't like you they can always find a "legal" reason to bring the hammer down. Particularly useful for anti corruption campaigns in countries where low level corruption is a feature of daily life!
    – eps
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 17:36
  • 1
    Many things are "relatively similar" indeed, but the Great Firewal is quite unique. In other countries people generally can use VPN or otherwise bypass blocks, and usually can't be prosecuted for this per se. But that requires at least some aptitude and knowledge and will, and most people just don't. Media that rely on advertising just can't afford to lose 80-90% of audience, even if the determined 10% will access them no matter what.
    – Zeus
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 0:32
  • I'd appreciate less hearsay and more links to laws or other substantial material. Being someone who lives in China, you surely have easy access to all that. Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 18:57

Yet another concern is funding the newspaper. A regime can easily punish companies inside the country attempting to pay for ads in the paper, and outside companies won’t be interested. Meduza cited this as a major threat to their continued operation.

  • Understated comment. It's difficult to run a business with no money.
    – Ashutosh
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 18:42
  • 3
    This answer is pretty barebones, and depends on context that may or may not exist in the future. If you could expand it so that it stands alone, even if its just to focus on the point you're raising, that would be useful. Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 18:59
  • added an edit about Russian online media located in Europe Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 21:33

Sometimes they do move abroad. One example I'm familiar with is a Russian newspaper based in Latvia called Meduza which was created as a consequence of the Russian government trying to shutdown a former opposition news website called Lenta.ru:

Following a March 10, 2014, Lenta.ru interview by Ilya Azar of Andriy Tarasenko from the Right Sector's Kyiv branch, Roskomnadzor immediately issued a press release on March 12, 2014, in which Lenta.ru was implicated in violating numerous Russian media laws, information laws, and laws to counter extremism because the interview allowed a leader from the group to appeal to Ukrainian citizens to support pro-Ukraine causes and that the article contained a link to Dmytro Yarosh's March 1, 2014 appeal.[9][11] Since the warning by Roskomnadzor was the second issued in a 12-month period, Roskomnadzor would ask the courts to terminate Lenta.ru's mass media license. Both the BBC and The Economist called Russia's response to Lenta.ru as censorship.

On March 12, 2014 the owner, Alexander Mamut, fired the Editor-in-Chief Galina Timchenko and replaced her with Alexey Goreslavsky. 39 employees out of the total 84, including Director-general Yuliya Minder, lost their jobs. This includes 32 writing journalists, all photo-editors (5 people) and 6 administrators. The employees of Lenta.ru issued a statement that the purpose of the move was to install a new Editor-in-Chief directly controlled by the Kremlin and turn the website into a propaganda tool. Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, referred to the move as a manifestation of censorship.

Galina Timchenko, together with a team of around 20 journalists who resigned from their jobs at Lenta.ru, started the new internet newspaper Meduza.

Lenta.ru still exists but currently its a pro-Putin newspaper. Meduza continues to be harassed by the Russian government despite being located abroad:

In June 2019, Meduza journalist Ivan Golunov was arrested by Russian police for claimed drug offences. Colleagues and friends of Golunov said they believed the charges to be fabricated, motivated by his investigations into corruption. Following a public outcry, Golunov was released, and five police officers were fired and later arrested.

On April 23, 2021, the Russian Ministry of Justice designated Meduza as a 'foreign agent'. In response, the European Union rejected the decision, saying this restriction "goes against Russia's international obligations and human rights commitments".

So while Russian authorities can no longer raid the headquarters of Meduza, they can still arrest any of their journalists operating out of Russia. Potentially they could also block Meduza from being accessed within Russia without a VPN, which would deal a major blow to their popularity. So unfortunately the mere act of relocating abroad does not mean you can operate with impunity.

  • 3
    that is a good explainer of the Meduza issues Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 21:34
  • With words "unfortunately" you make it sound that "crooks can't operate without impunity" is somehow a bad thing. Why? Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 18:50
  • 1
    @OlegV.Volkov I'm a huge supporter of First Amendment level rights, meaning anyone can say anything they want with impunity, except for calls for violence. What Russia's laws or lawmakers or anyone else really might think on this subject is of zero importance to me, as free speech is a basic inalienable human right. So by very definition the mere act of publishing non-violent speech cannot be considered "crooked". Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 19:02
  • 1
    @OlegV.Volkov whatever you say Putin bot ;) Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 21:19
  • 1
    @OlegV.Volkov I'll add a 1000+ word answer to your implicit of question of "who judges what free speech is okay", feel free to start a new answer on Politics.SE Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 2:34

Electronic media and radio

Newspaper business needs rapid and widespread local distribution, which can be easily controlled locally. However, with the advent of electronic media, the distribution principles are quite different, perhaps more equivalent to radio.

If we look at historical examples of circumventing restrictions on news, Radio Free Europe comes to mind, which was broadcasting towards USSR during the Cold War.

In a similar manner, we have seen some Russian media moving their offices to neighboring countries and distributing news electronically - for example, after a crackdown on opinions posted in Lenta.ru, a number of their employees moved out of Russia and formed an electronic news media Meduza, distributing news electronically from offices in Riga; explicitly listing the reason for their location as somewhere where the Russian government won't prevent their work. Similarly, there are journalists attempting to curate and distribute independent news in Belarus from neighboring countries through e.g. Telegram channels.

However, news really needs data from on-site reporters, especially if the "restricted data" aren't news about what's happening in the wider world (as was the focus of Radio Free Europe) but local news about social and political events, local business and corruption, etc. An "offshore" agency then needs to rely on local people, for whom it might be dangerous to collaborate as they might be subject to restrictions and/or detained if the local regime wants to.

  • 1
    There is a difference (and an important consideration) worth incorporating in the answer. Radio Liberty was directed to the determined people who would defy the government by listening to it. Meduza could choose to do that, i.e. defy the Russian government (being legally invulnerable), be blocked and reduce its audience to the determined ones. But being funded primarily by advertising (rather than foreign governments as Russia seems to imply), it can't afford it.
    – Zeus
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 0:45
  • 1
    Radio Free Europe was broadcasting to the whole Eastern bloc, not just USSR, and in many languages, hence "Europe". One of the important focuses of Radio Free Europe were also local news that were cenzored by the local regimes. But it wasn't just about politics, the folk singer and songwriter Karel Kryl was a sports redactor there. Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 6:21

There appears to be some evidence that media organisations can/will/do move from places they report on if threatened, or if they expect to be threatened (noting that Winandmac Media's move from Hong Kong seems to be somewhat preemptive):

Winandmac Media, an IT website that had covered Hong Kong news since 2010, said it had already moved its operations and financial resources out of Hong Kong due to the dramatic deterioration of press freedom in the city.

Another example I came across is a Mexican Journalist:

I have to left my country, ironically, to be able to keep doing my job.

A note: media organisations may tend to self censor rather than physically move.

  • More examples here

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .