by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Stand News/Facebook

HONG KONG ONLINE media outlet Stand News announced that it was ending operations as of today, with the platform’s editor-in-chief Patrick Lam resigning and all staff dismissed. 

The announcement took place following a police raid on Stand News’ offices by 200 police officers today, during which computers and at least 30 boxes of files were seized. Apart from Lam, a number of individuals were arrested in connection to Stand News. This includes former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and deputy assignment editor Ronson Chan, who is also the chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. Furthermore, board members and former board members including singer-songwriter Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, Christine Fang, and Chow Tat-chi were arrested. 61 million HKD of assets, which is 216.4 million NT, owned by the online media platform were frozen. 

Citing an editorial published in Stand News, police officials claimed in a press briefing that the outlet advocated Hong Kong independence, though Stand News was known for publishing a diversity of viewpoints that did not necessarily reflect its own position. Police, then, were depicting the platform as seditious, violating the Hong Kong Basic Law and possibly national security legislation in doing so. 

Announcement of Stand News’ closure

Likewise, it is noteworthy that police officials pointed to the fact that Stand News operated a UK office, suggesting that it was suspicious for an online outlet that reported primarily on Hong Kong to not only have an overseas office, but to be able to be afford one. This would be the accusation that Stand News was working with the British government to try and undermine China in Hong Kong, accusing it of being funded by the UK as well as taking instructions in terms of its editorial direction. After the raid, in comments, Chief Secretary John Lee called on Hong Kong media workers to avoid “bad apples” and “evil elements.”

It has proved a common tactic for the Hong Kong government to try and claim that pro-democracy actors are collaborating with foreign forces in their activism or advocacy and one sees this accusation leveled against Stand News, as well. Ironically, the Chinese government itself funds media outlets in Taiwan and has a direct say in the articles they publish, as part of “United Front” efforts aimed at facilitating the political unification of Taiwan and China, and conducts similar efforts elsewhere.

Nevertheless, with the closure of Stand News, one notes a script previously used by the Hong Kong government against Apple Daily. The Apple Daily printed its final edition and shut down in June, following a police raid of 500 on its offices and the arrest of senior staff members. In order to prevent the newspaper from continuing to function, Hong Kong authorities froze the newspaper’s assets, as well as those of owner Jimmy Lai, preventing the newspaper from paying its staff members and continuing to operate normally. 

So, too, with the actions taken against Stand News. In particular, Stand News was likely the largest independent online news outlet in Hong Kong and its fall represents an increasingly dangerous environment for smaller outlets. This also took place with the Apple Daily, in that the fall of the pro-democracy tabloid newspaper meant that smaller publishers would have to be increasingly careful going forward; indeed, Stand News reportedly sought to minimize activity and operate with a reduced staff after the Apple Daily shut down. 

Stand News livestream of the start of the police raid on its offices

Yet this does not seem to have been enough. It is likely that the Hong Kong government will continue with its media crackdown using the same repertoire of tactics. 

This would be repeating history in some sense, Stand News’ predecessor, House News, shut down in 2014, citing increasing pressure on its staff. Stand News was launched later that year. However, the stakes for media have only become increasingly fraught since 2014, and the political atmosphere in Hong Kong is more dangerous than ever. 

It is to be seen whether the targeting of Stand News represents that the Hong Kong government will next place online media outlets in its crosshairs. The Hong Kong government sought to keep online media outlets out of press briefings in past years even while taking increasing action against journalists working for such platforms and even student journalists. The chilling effect from the fall of Stand News, too, will be widely felt, and is likely to affect many other outlets. 

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