Hong Kong 2013: A Burgeoning New Media Sector and a Backward Government

Edward Snowden supporters rally in Hong Kong. Photo by Voice of America. Released to public domain.

Edward Snowden supporters rally in Hong Kong. Photo by Voice of America. Released to public domain.

Written by Michelle Fong and translated by Sharon Loh, the original version of this article was published on inmediahk.net in Chinese. 

Many new media initiatives, both commercial and citizen, have blossomed in Hong Kong over the past two years. These newly founded online media outlets have strong potential to transform not only the professional media sector, but also political processes in Hong Kong, as grassroots voices gain more attention both from the public and from political leaders. Below is an incomplete list:

Burgeoning New Media Initiatives

Hong Kong Dash – a collective blog operated by student activists, established after the anti-national education campaign in Hong Kong in 2012

The House News – a commercial news portal, following the Huffington news model, curating news and offering commentaries to readers

Pentoy – the online version of local newspaper, Mingpao, commentary page

Urban Diarist – an online magazine to record oral history in Hong Kong, sponsored by an architecture firm as a corporate social responsibility project

Post 852 – a newly launched “breaking views” platform formed by a group of media workers who collectively resigned from a local newspaper, Hong Kong Economic Journal

Bastille Post – an online news portal partially funded by media corporations, Singtao News Corporation Limited. The Group's founder and chairman, Charles Ho Tsu Kwok, is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Hong Kong SOW – a social enterprise with an online platform that showcases the practice of “solutions” journalism. The social enterprise was founded by Vincent Wong, director of Strategic Planning of HK Commercial Broadcasting.

Some groups are also making use of Facebook pages to distribute topical news:

Tai Kung Pao: a distributor of labor news.

United Social Press: a page run by social activists, reporting and distributing news related to local social movements.

Online news outlets sidelined by government

With the new media sector is clearly increasing in strength and numbers, the Hong Kong government has been unable to keep up with the changing landscape. Many independent media projects have faced limitations on their work, particularly when seeking to cover government events — obtaining press passes has been a constant challenge.

Last year, citizen news portal inmediahk.net's contributing reporters were kicked out of several press events by government civil servants. These included the second public forum on population policy and the 2013 summit on district administration. In another incident, Home Affairs Department staff barred House News reporters from entering a public consultation where HK mayor Leung Chun-ying was present. The staff claimed that the venue had limited space and was only open to the mainstream media. The Information Service Department, an authority responsible for handling government press conferences and news releases, has routinely refused to send press invitations to online news outlets as they are not recognized as proper media institutions.

In response to this out-dated approach, Hong Kong In-Media, an independent and citizen media advocacy group affiliated with inmediahk.net, issued several statements demanding that the Information Service Department review its policies with an eye towards the changing media landscape, and to place particular attention on the definitions of the terms “media” and “news organization”. The agency has thus far refused to make any changes to its terms.

Technological innovation has resulted in the introduction of new media forms, from newspaper to radio and TV to the Internet — now an essential part of people's everyday lives. If we were to define the notion of “mainstream media” based on audience, many online news outlets would have out-numbered print media such as the pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Tai Kung Pao. It is backward and ridiculous for the government to limit its definition of “media” merely to printed media.

Malicious hacking a persistent threat

Although government restrictions are a substantial barrier for these new groups, online media's biggest enemy is hackers. Last year, a number of online news platforms weathered malicious hacker attacks. Inmediahk.net suffered Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in May 2013, with a large number of HTTP requests coming from China. A few months later, in September, The House News became the next DDoS attack victim. Amnesty International Hong Kong‘s website was hacked around the same time. The hackers replaced some images on the sites with pornographic photos. SocREC, a social movement documentary video team had its Youtube account stolen in October. Hackers deleted over one thousand videos published under their account.

Internet freedom and privacy in HK and around the world

Government plans to pass the controversial Copyright (Amendment) Bill failed in 2012. To address public concern over the potential criminalization of parody, the government put forward a public consultation on the exemption of legal liability for parody in the Copyright (Amendment) Bill in October 2013. So far, major copyright holders and concerned citizens are divided in their opinions on the issue. But civil society has managed to put together a counter proposal calling for the exemption of legal liability on all non-profit user generated content.

Last but not least, the most significant event of 2013 concerning Internet freedom was the series of documents leaked by Edward Snowden that revealed the massive online surveillance practices of the US National Security Agency. As Hong Kong was the first stop in Snowden's escape route, Hong Kong In-Media quickly assumed a coordinator role in the organization of local support including producing a public statement and organizing a rally to condemn US spying activities.

Building public awareness about online privacy
Last August, the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of The Hong Kong University and Google Inc. worked together to launch the Hong Kong Transparency Report. The report showed that between 2010 to 2013, various government departments had made more than ten thousand requests for users’ personal data and more than seven thousand content deletion requests to local Internet service providers (ISPs) without a court order. A majority of the requests, 86 percent, came from the Hong Kong Police.

The Chief Executive's political reform package, slated to include universal suffrage in Hong Kong beginning in 2017, will be announced in 2014. As civil society prepares to exercise mass civil actions and independent press coverage to promote a fair candidate nomination process, conventional mainstream media are facing substantial political pressure to censor and tailor their content. In the coming years, we believe Internet-based independent and citizen media will play a crucial role in the democratization process.

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