Pro-democracy website closed amid claims of commercial pressure and threats

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned about press freedom in Hong Kong after a pro-democracy news website was suddenly closed, with the co-founder admitting he was “afraid”. The IFJ has said it is another case of the ongoing pressure placed on Hong Kong’s media.

The site, House News, was established in 2012 by Tony Tsoi Tung-Ho and three others. On July 26, Tsoi posted a closure notice on the front page of the website. He wrote: “Hong Kong has been changed so that it is no longer easy to run a normal media. … The current political atmosphere is extremely disturbing. A number of democracy advocates have been followed, had their past investigated and been smeared. White terror has been spreading throughout society. I felt this stress.”

“Despite our popularity, many big companies do not place advertisements on our website because of our critical stance towards the government and Beijing,” he said.

The website had an average of 300,000 unique visitors per day last month, but in this “abnormal society”, it had never made a profit, he said.

screen shot of the official House News facebook page announcing their closure 

Tsoi is one of ten professionals who publicly vowed to take part in the Occupy Movement, which the Central Government of China and Hong Kong Government have denounced. The Occupy Movement is calling for the Central Government of China to allow Hong Kong to hold the 2017 election for the Hong Kong Chief Executive on the basis of genuine universal suffrage.

A source told the IFJ: “Tsoi has been asked not to talk about the Occupy Movement when he is invited to be a speaker of some public events.”

According to a news report, the website’s staff was not informed of the decision to close it until the very last moment. Sixteen staff members, including management, will meet on Thursday to settle remaining issues, including severance payment.

The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: “The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-Ying, cannot evade his responsibility to defend press freedom while repeatedly claiming he and his administration will uphold press freedom.”

“This is also further proof that the media cannot rely on traditional methods for operating, while the business sector is so vulnerable and political interference is extending its power.”

The IFJ calls on Hong Kong’s journalists to stand firm and defend press freedom, while managers of media outlets should look for new business models for operating media outlets to ensure the public’s right to know is not blocked by intimidation.