Hong Kong pro-democracy site forced to close | Asia Pacific

Hong Kong pro-democracy site forced to close

Hong Kong pro-democracy site forced to close

Updated 30 July 2014, 14:39 AEST

Hong Kong has witnessed the sudden closure of a pro-democracy news website and blog.

A co founder of the House News website cited political pressure and falling revenue as reasons for the move.

Reporter: Kanaha Sabapathy

Speakers: Professor Chan Kin Man, a founder of Occupy Central; Sham Yee Lan, chair of Hong Kong Journalists Association

SABAPATHY: House News website came into being in July 2012, just in time to campaign strongly against a government plan to introduce moral and national education in schools, a project seen by many as pro-Beijing brainwashing.
 
Since then the website which also functions as a blog has been gaining popularity,  providing Hong Kong public with an alternative source of news along with a forum to express their views
 
In announcing the sudden closure of House News, one of its founding members Tony Tsoi said in his post under Hong Kong's current political environment it's not only difficult, but terrifying to lead a normal life and run a normal media outlet.
 
A staunch pro-democrat, Mr Tsoi a prominent businessman, has publicly vowed to take part in the civil disobedience movement, Occupy Central.
 
And like other keen supporters of the Movement, Mr Tsoi and his family have been targeted and harassed says Professor Chan Kin Man, a founder of Occupy Central.
 
CHAN: Many keen supporters of Occupy Central Movement, we from time to time, received letter threatening our life, accusing us of creating troubles in Hong Kong, and it, of course, will create pressure to our family members, particularly Mr Tsoi, who runs a factory in China. I guess constantly he needs to go back to China and he mentioned in a statement (word indistinct) went through the immigration, he was very much afraid that he will be in trouble.
 
SABAPATHY: It's believed that Mr Tsoi had been paying almost 77,000 US dollars a month to keep the website running.
 
And although it has been rated as Hong Kong's 57th most popular website it has never been able to draw advertising revenue in proportion to its popularity.
 
Professor Chan says this is because of political pressure put on companies by the government.
 
CHAN: In term of financial burden, I believe it is also closely related to political pressure, because many companies were afraid to put their ads in House News, because of pressure from Beijing.
 
SABAPATHY: Some others blame the unsustainable business model of the website, which had been based solely on advertisement revenue, for its failure.
 
Professor Chan agrees had Mr Tsoi sort funding from donations from the public and charities the website could have survived the economic pressure.  But he fears there's more behind Mr Tsoi's decision to close the website.
 
CHAN: Well, even last month, when I talked to him, he was quite optimistic that he can keep the website going, but suddenly, he need to close down this website, I believe that he must have faced some very serious threat. So I guess this is more than just economic issues.
 
SABAPATHY: Over the past two years while Hong Kong authorities targeted the freedom of traditional media, new media outlets like House News filled the void with independent news.
 
Its closure is a blow says the chairperson of Hong Kong Journalists Association, Sham Yee Lan.
 
LAN: Considering the current political situation in Hong Kong and the fact that the majority of the mainstream media have been co-opted into pro-government, pro-Beijing. The closure of House News is indeed a loss to Hong Kong.
 
SABAPATHY: The political pressure leading to the closure of House News reflects the mounting tensions as Hong Kong prepares for a possible shutdown of the its financial centre by activists fighting Beijing's desire to limit democratic reforms.
 
At the weekend chief executive Leung Chun-ying said he will sign a high profile petition against Occupy Central, a move which pan democrats fear will further polarise the city with civil servants put under pressure to sign it too.
 

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