Hong Kong: Citizen Media Summit Seeks Common Agenda

An online citizen media summit, organized by inmediahk.net [zh], was held in Hong Kong on December 15, 2012. The objective of the gathering was to formulate a common agenda among local non-mainstream media actors. The summit, attended by 200 local citizen media organizers and concerned netizens, consisted of 9 sub-group panel discussions that revolved around the following topics:

1. Challenges paused by the Copyright Amendment
2. How to make use and step out of the “tyranny of Facebook”
3. Communication and exclusion and the “tribalization challenge”
4. Radical community media politics vs. populist politics
5. How to deal with government and corporate oppression
6. Management and sustainability challenges
7. Online content: Diversification or homogenization; Alternatives or mainstream
8. How can citizen media develop cross-border content
9. Grassroots networking through online media

Inmediahk Summit poster

The summit organizer, inmediahk.net, invited 4 distinguished speakers:

Ip Iam Chong: One of the founders of inmediahk.net; Lecturer at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.
Jack Qui Linchuan: Associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Chloe Lai: Senior journalist and part-time lecturer on journalism.
Lisa Leung Yuk Ming: Assistant professor at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.

Below is a summary report on the main observations made by the aforementioned four speakers at the end of the summit:

Ip Iam Chong: Exploring common agenda across online tribes

What is the meaning of new media explosion, wonders Ip Iam Chong. It is a global phenomenon that marks the subsiding of mass culture. However, the process is very slow. For example, in the case of Hong Kong, TVB, a popular commercial television station, still has a large audience.

In the past few years, a large number of small online media have emerged but they remain very tribalized. Sometimes they are even at odds with each other. This summit was in fact a rare occasion for participants from non-mainstream media to sit together. At the same time, we, citizen media actors, commonly face a set of challenges: a common technological setting; main actors in the local democratization process; the subsiding of conventional and commercial news media organizations as a result of the failure of the existing business model.

The revolution taking place now is led by a large number of small online media organizations—the so-called “We” media. They are not just media groups but they represent a new political practice. Yet the movement also faces a lot of additional challenges, such as the fact they have to operate under the tyranny of new media giants, such as Facebook. They are restricted by their policy and technological settings.

Moreover, online media groups are ghettoized. The emotionally-charged type of information they distribute, mostly speaks to those who share the same perspective. This is the so-called “Echo Chamber Effect.” The affective consumption of information makes it even more difficult to carry out in-depth discussion on social and political issues. We are aware of the fact that investigative reports can be rarely found in online citizen media.

Despite all these challenges, with a common context, Ip Iam Chong thinks it is still possible for us, citizen media actors, to formulate a common agenda among local citizen and non-mainstream medial.

Jack Qui: Embracing social and political transformation

Jack Qui's research is focused on how mainland Chinese workers make use of Internet and mobile communication technology in the Pearl River Delta. He has attended the copyrights and grassroots media panel discussions during this summit.

To deal with the tribal culture, Qui contends, citizen media organizations need to have more exchanges. One of the speakers pointed out that people nowadays only show their concern online, but very few actually participate in offline and community based grassroots activities. However, when compared with other countries, citizen media in Hong Kong is very much attached to local and urban politics.

We are in the era of “mass self-communication.” It generates from the self, with roots in the local communities. There is potential for it to go deeper and extend into the rest of the society. Of course, we are constrained by capital and legal settings, as pointed out by the Copyright group during the summit. Furthermore, we are locked in a “tele-cocoon,” partly because of the communication mode of the existing social media platforms. The situation is the same across all countries. The sustainability of the self is crucial to overcome the above-mentioned difficulties as the self is the source of creativity and diversity.

The Internet public sphere, constituted by mass self-communication, is a site for political contest. Currently, the new media sector in Hong Kong has not generated enough power to threaten the political status quo. That's why the pro-China political forces do not have a strong political will to take it over. However, when we look at the South Korean experience, in 2001, the democratic alliance defeated the conservatives in the presidential election largely with the help of online mobilization. Within 5 years (in 2006) the conservatives had taken over the Internet public sphere and subsequently regained their power. The same situation may happen in Hong Kong as well.

Yet Jack Qui believes that we should not be defeated and should embrace the project of social and political transformation in Hong Kong, as well as in China, with our media practice.

Chloe Lai: Content is the King

Chloe Lai's background is professional journalism. She believes that the definition of a journalist is through journalistic practice rather than through any institutional set up. Even though she has left the industry, she says she is still a journalist. The oppression of professional and citizen journalists is of a similar nature. The difference is, citizen journalists don't have institutional support when they are bullied. Community support is thus very important. The nature of oppression is multidimensional, exercised through government policy, legal prosecution, or even physical violence. A workshop for individual bloggers is probably needed to help them build their community support.

As for the cross-border discussion, we are all aware of the fact that international news delivery has been monopolized by international news agencies. The situation in Hong Kong is even worse. For commercial media, news is restricted to what the market or their audience dictate; that's why they only focus on reporting news in countries where Hong Kong people visit most frequently. Citizen media, in that regard, has more freedom to report on international news. Of course resources remain a huge challenge.

As for sharing Hong Kong news with the global audience, the language barrier need to be overcome. Currently international news agencies’ interest is all about mainland China, rather than Hong Kong. More English content needs to be produced to tell the global audience what happens here. Actually translation is more difficult than writing original news as you need to provide a lot of context. Hong Kong mainstream media is often disappointing in that regard. At the same time citizen media content is mainly made of news commentaries. As a trained journalist, Chloe believes that content is the king and that investigative reporting is essential, “that's why I really appreciate inmediahk.net's effort in producing first hand citizen report,” she adds. Moreover, Chloe thinks we should judge our news by its news value and public interest, rather than the liking or the political attitude of the audience.

In conclusion, Chloe Lai observes that many online media organizations in Hong Kong have emerged because of the current political context. She wonders: Once the political context changes, will the organizations still be defending our free speech environment? Or will their position depend on which political clan media bosses belong to?

Lisa Leung: Management of Creativity

Lisa Leung's current research is focused on social media and political participation. She believes we face a lot of contradictions today. On the one hand, the communication is very individualized, and on the other we perceive the online space as a “public space”. However, we all know that the technological setting is “customized”. We are not living in a global village, just a “customized cottage.” We have to walk out from such a myth. The path is not straight, it is a zig-zag path through trials and errors.

The second character of the social media is its affective aspect. The “self” is at the center of the performance. How to manage our “affection” to build more constructive discussions? The re-packaging of information and news seems important. The management of creativity is crucial as well, such as in the handling of the legal risks. For example Golden Forum (a popular Hong Kong-based Internet forum) users are experienced in making use of “parody” to avoid legal prosecutions such as defamation and distribution of indecent materials online.

As for the sustainability question, most of the citizen and non-mainstream media depend on “friendship” and the “shared vision” which are also related to the affective aspect. But how to extend the closed network and run your organization as a media that reaches out to bigger audiences is still a big challenge.

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