This article, written by inmediahk.net's editorial team, was originally published in Chinese on December 28 and was translated by Jennifer Cheung into English for Global Voices as part of a content-sharing partnership.
Two months before the Occupy Central movement brought about mass demonstrations demanding free and fair elections in Hong Kong, Tony Tsoi shuttered his popular alternative news site, House News. At the time, Tsoi claimed was terrified by Hong Kong's political environment.
But with tensions still sky-high in Hong Kong, Tsoi launched a new site just before Christmas, known as Stand News, or “Standpoint News” in Chinese. Given its peculiar origins, the site has thus far been met with both praise and criticism on social media.
Within one night, netizens made fun of the relaunch by setting up dozens of pages that copied the platform's name: including “Love Stand”, “Happiness Stand”, “Gambling Stand”, “Battle Stand”, “Football Stand”, and “Magnet Stand”. The flood of praise and condemnation following Stand News’ launch seemed to have ruined a great holiday.
Most of the skeptical comments centered on the fact that Tony Tsoi hasn't explained how he overcame his said fear, particularly after the Umbrella Revolution, as persecution and revenge have added to the chilling effects of Hong Kong's political atmosphere. In addition, the absence of Stand News during the Umbrella Movement, as it is also called, has been labeled as a certain type of original sin.
Apart from these initial reactions and speculations, we haven’t seen any analysis of the political positioning of Stand News after the Umbrella Revolution.
The launching statement of the Stand News said it takes Hong Kong as its home and thus Hong Kong is its “standpoint” or political position. Yet all political groups and parties in Hong Kong, including pro-establishment groups such as Caring Hong Kong Power and other pro-Beijing camps, take Hong Kong as their home and claim to speak for Hong Kong.
The political position of Stand News can be best reflected from its board members, half of whom are the original business managers of the former House News. The other half are new faces, including Margaret Ng, Christine Fang, Denise Ho and Joseph Lian.
Margaret Ng, a pro-democracy barrister, has long advocated for civil and political rights in China and Hong Kong. In 1998, in a legal case concerning the right of Hong Kong-born citizens to reside in mainland China, Ng chose to stand against dominant public opinion but with Hong Kongers’ mainland children, reflecting her belief that some values are more important than votes and applause.
Christine Fang, who is associated with Hong Kong Council of Social Services, represents local the NGO sector. Both Margaret Ng and Christine Fang are conventional democrats who contributed to Hong Kong's democratic reform in past decades.
Since the mid-2000s, a series of social movements have contributed to the rise of new political forces consisting of both youth and localist Hong Kongers who treasure local culture and identity. These two groups sometimes work with and sometimes are at odds with the conventional democrats. The increasing separation and inner conflicts among anti-establishment democrats have raised concerns as to whether the driving force for social and political changes in Hong Kong will be disintegrated.
The formation of the Stand News board has undoubtedly addressed the above concern. Denise Ho, a pop star and activist who was very active in the the umbrella movement, represents the new emerging youth force, while Joseph Liang, a current news commentator who advocates for Hong Kong's autonomy, represents the force of localists who want to safeguard Hong Kong as an autonomous space.
If older generation democrats and the new political forces can consolidate and unite with one another, they can surely mitigate the current conflicts and work from a new beginning. If Stand News were to position itself as the bridge between these groups, it would have to be operated and interpreted by its editorial and reporter team and its in-house bloggers.
The eleven staff members of Stand News all come from the former House News. At House News, they excelled in news judgment and visualisations and had been seen as a media that promote ‘localist’ agenda. But whether they can reset the political agenda amid the chaotic politics of the post-Umbrella Revolution Hong Kong depends on their political judgement beyond journalism senses.
Stand News also has adopted a non-profit model, which means in operation, it cannot repeat the same practices of House News, which was a for-profit entity model and thus had to win page views in order to sustain itself. In its new incarnation, the donation-centered model indicates the website has to win donors’ recognition over its core values. Certain conflicts will exist between an ad-dominated market and a value-dominated market. Also, if the website relies on small donors rather than big patrons, it would be more difficult to manage its values. The bigger the budget, the more pressure it would face.
At present many online media survive on donations. While some with obvious political agendas rely on big patrons, those who depend on small donors have two strategies. One is to attract loyal fans with famous celebrities, but interactions on social media, in particular Facebook, can easily turn the media outlet into an echo chambers. The second strategy of the small donor mode is to streamline its organizational structure in order to cut costs, and to recruit volunteers to share workload.
inmediahk.net (the independent, pro-human rights media site run by the authors of this article) belongs to the latter category. We have relied on small donations for the past decade. To date, we have garnered over 400,000 Facebook Likes, and our Alexa local ranking has climbed to the Top 300, but inmediahk.net currently only has two full-time editors charged with content management and coordination of volunteer news assignment in daily base.
Our greatest expectations for the non-profit Stand News is that it could change the news consumption habit of Hong Kong readers just like the way it thrived on Facebook several years ago, help readers understand that freedom of press has a price, and develop a culture of reader donations to support independent news platforms. This is what inmediahk.net has been striving to achieve, but it remains a perpetual task due to limited resources.