It was no surprise when House News closed in July, in a move apparently linked to political pressure from Beijing, given the popular online news portal’s credibility among Hongkongers and the huge influence it had among them.
But co-founder Tony Tsoi Tong-hoo has refused to comment on the shutting down of the website since issuing a statement at the time blaming it on “fear, political pressure and low advertising revenues”.
Now Tsoi and the two editors who co-founded House News are returning with a new venture called Stand News.
Will they be able to win back the trust of their readers after sitting out the 79-day Occupy campaign, the most exciting period in the city’s history?
Netizens have been showing their dissatisfaction by creating webpages on social networks that parody Stand News, with fonts and logos similar to those it uses.
These include Club News, covering nightlife; Sex News, featuring erotic stories; Exam News, with information about public examinations; Cook News, on topics relating to cooking; and Cemetery News, which carries humorous “news” items using quotes from politicians who died years ago.
With Stand News, Tsoi and his team would like to win back the more than 100,000 readers of House News.
But the initial response of internet users seems to indicate Stand News may not be able to repeat the success of its predecessor.
What was the source of the pressure that made Tsoi close House News on July 26?
While the public have been speculating that it came from Beijing, no one has said outright that was the case.
Even Tsoi only said at the time that he was experiencing pressure that had become so bad that he felt more haunted as the days went by.
Now, as a founding member of Stand News, Tsoi has still had nothing to say about the closing of its predecessor.
He disappeared from public view during the entire Occupy campaign, except for two columns in Next Media’s publications.
Meanwhile, during the absence of House News, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers occupied streets in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok to fight for true democracy.
The youngsters are now asking, “What did Tsoi do when we were sleeping in the protest zones and suffering from being pepper-sprayed?”
Stand News is not the same as House News, just as the young readers have themselves changed after the Occupy campaign.
Hongkongers relied on Hong Kong Inmedia and the fan pages of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism for the latest news and analysis during the Occupy movement.
Is there any room for Stand News in such a crowded market?
The introduction on the Facebook page of Stand News says the founding members of Stand News take responsibility for the abnormal demise of House News, saying they had underestimated the pressure put on independent media.
It says they have not given up or admitted defeat. Stand News is their answer.
The new venture will have a fresh ownership structure involving a unit trust, to avoid any shareholder taking control of the venture.
The trust will hold the shares of Stand News, and the founding members have no right to transfer their shares. It will accept funding from the public to support the website.
Stand News is relying on an impressive board of directors to build its credibility and win back the trust of the public.
Its directors include former Hong Kong Economic Journal chief editor Joseph Lian Yizheng, former Ming Pao publisher Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, pop singer Denise Ho Wan-see, Tsoi and three editors of Stand News.
But from the initial response of internet users, Tsoi could be a liability to the new venture if he remains tight-lipped about the sudden closure of House News.
It’s good news that Tsoi is returning to the online media battlefield given the mainstream media, except Next Media, are all under the control of pro-Beijing or Beijing-friendly businessmen.
To devote himself to this venture, Tsoi has quit with effect from the end of March next year as chief executive of Varitronix International (00710.HK), a Hong Kong-based maker of LCD displays with manufacturing facilities in Guangdong province.
Next Magazine has speculated that, with a major deal being negotiated between the company and a huge mainland conglomerate, Tsoi was asked by Varitronix chairman Johnson Ko Chun-shun to close House News.
If Tsoi has nothing to hide, he should stand up and explain to the public what led to the death of its predecessor.
That would clear the air and pave the way for the success of Stand News.
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