House News, a pro-democracy news site in Hong Kong that was shuttered earlier this year in the face of political pressure, was recently relaunched under the new name Stand News, implying that the platform would take a stand in local politics.
But the timing of the website's reappearance — after the months-long Umbrella Revolution calling for free and fair elections came to an end — has some observers skeptical.
Tony Tsoi, one of the co-founders of House News, abruptly shut down the site in July 2014, saying he was terrified by the political atmosphere in Hong Kong. At the time, the protest movement Occupy Central had yet to peacefully take over the city's center to demand that the Hong Kong and Beijing governments allow the people to choose the candidates for the city's next chief executive election.
Five months later on December 22, Tsoi relaunched the site under a new name, Stand News, this time as a non-profit organization. In addition to the site's founders and chief editors, the organization's board includes pro-democracy public figures Denise Ho, a Cantopop singer who was deeply involved in the Umbrella Revolution; Margaret Ng, a barrister and member of the pro-democracy Civic Party; and Josep Lian, a famous current affairs commentator.
In its relaunch statement, the site stressed the difference between House News and Stand News:
The biggest difference between Stand News and House News is that not a single individual could own the company. To make sure that Stand News can be sustainable and not a single individual can control the site, its three founders will give up their holdings and profit-sharing rights under a trust fund, which means the founders cannot transfer their company shares to others.
But not everyone was convinced of the site's intentions as the news platform was relaunched only after the sit-in sites were cleared and Tsoi has yet to disclose the full story of the alleged pressure that led to the site's shutter, skepticism arise. Many made fun of Stand News by creating a few dozen Facebook pages that echo the the site's Chinese name, which includes the spatial term 場, similar in meaning to the English word “field” and “hall”. Soccer News (球場), Lover News (情場), Magnetic News (磁場), Theatre News (劇場), Labour News (職場), Horse News (馬場), Battlefield News (戰場), Bad News (墳場), Exam News (試場) were some of the pages that appeared.
Tang Lik Hang, a former blogger for House News, urged Tsoi to explain why he relaunched the news platform only after the Umbrella Revolution:
Soon after the Umbrella Movement ended, House News changed its name and relaunched. However, the kind of pressure that terrifies Tony Tsoi and leads him to misjudge the market still exists today. In the aftermath of Umbrella Movement, the political pressure is even more obvious than it was when House News shuttered. How come Tony Tsoi changed his mind and has gotten into the media business again? Such questions are very valid. If Stand News has to clear up everyone's doubts, Tony Tsoi should speak up and explain.
Aside from questioning the news platform's disappearance during the sit-in protests, other issues such as the abrupt shutdown of House News without leaving the content archive online were also raised. However, Au Kalun, who was a blogger for House News and will write for Stand News, expressed his full trust in the new board and editorial team:
I support Stand News because the team has the experience and the ability. They have come together again and I have huge expectations […] I believe that they are not signing an empty cheque. You can see that the composition of its board and its editing and reporting team is very strong. In term of news value, they will hold themselves up to their principles. It won't be easy to intervene in their operations. Even if you can't trust Tony Tsoi, please trust this team […]