Stand News comes to an end, as ‘no place’ for anti-China tool in name of free press
Media groups in HK to be further regulated in line with national security law, local laws: experts
Published: Dec 29, 2021 09:34 PM
The Stand News editor-in-chief is brought into a vehicle on December 29, 2021 in Hong Kong, China.Photo: VCG

The Stand News editor-in-chief is brought into a vehicle on December 29, 2021 in Hong Kong, China.Photo: VCG

After the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) arrested seven people on suspicion of sedition on Wednesday and searched the offices of Stand News in Kwun Tong, the online news site announced it would cease operations after police froze HK$61 million ($7.82 million) of its assets. Some senior executives and former senior executives of the news site such as the former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and a board member Denise Ho, who is also an infamous secessionist singer, were among the arrestees, on the charge of colluding and publishing multiple inflammatory articles. 

From July 2020 to November this year, Stand News published many inflammatory articles in order to arouse the public's distaste and hatred toward the rule of law and the government, instigating Hong Kong residents to challenge the rule of law, Steve Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the national security division of the HKPF, told a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon. With a court order, the police searched multiple places connected to Stand News and confiscated a large amount of materials such as computers, electronic devises, documents as well as HK$500,000 in cash, Li said. 

The police arrested seven people on suspicion of sedition on Wednesday morning, including six linked to Stand News and one from the now-defunct secessionist tabloid Apple Daily. Former Apple Daily associate publisher Chan Pui-man, who is Chung's wife and already in jail, was arrested again on Wednesday for allegedly being involved in writing inflammatory articles for Stand News.

According to an online video, the police also searched on Wednesday morning the place where Ronson Chan lives. Chan was deputy assignment editor of Stand News and chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The police also issue a wanted for arrest of Tsoi Tung-Ho, founder of Stand News, local media reported on Wednesday night.

The online news site, founded in December 2014, announced it would cease operations on Wednesday afternoon, according to a statement it published after senior executives were arrested for further investigation, and all the staff of the news site were let go immediately. 

It was another major investigation on local media outlet after the police searched the headquarters of the Apple Daily in June, and the arrest of Stand News executives was also within the public expectation, reflecting a proper regulation on the so-called media under the national security law and local laws, as the freedom of speech cannot be used as a political tool to challenge national security and the rule of law, legal experts and officials said. 

"I'm not surprised about the latest search and possible charges connected to Stand News, which is another action of the central government and HKSAR government in handling anti-China media outlets, and there must be sufficient evidence collected," Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

From July 2020 onward, Stand News published a number of inflammatory articles such as some depicting the so-called protesters as missing or infringed upon, and those articles were published after the national security law for Hong Kong took effect, embodying groundless and malicious accusations, Li said during the press briefing. Some articles criticized that the trial against those protesters was "blatant abuse of power by the Communist Party of China (CPC)." 

"It's time to put a halt to irresponsible press spreading fake news or malicious content that infringes on national security, and all the operation of such press or political body wrapped in the form of press should be terminated," Chu Kar-kin, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and a Hong Kong-based veteran current affairs commentator , told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

The media shall not enjoy any privileges or abuse the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which shall never become a platform to widespread rumors or hatred. Chu said, noting that foreign journalists in Hong Kong should also obey such rules of reporting in a responsible manner. 

Stand News republished an article earlier this year claiming that Hong Kong people should learn from the experience of Northern Ireland resistance with weapons, sparking widely shared criticism by the lawmakers. The site also published, from time to time, interviews with absconded rioters, delivering messages of "continuing the resistance" and smearing the government as well as the CPC, Ta Kung Pao reported in May. 

John Lee Ka-chiu, chief secretary for the HKSAR government, said on Wednesday that anyone pretending to be a journalist or who uses journalism to endanger national security will face a severe crackdown by the HKSAR government, and he fully supports the HKPF to handle inflammatory publications in accordance with the law. 

Former chief executive of HKSAR government Leung Chun-ying also pointed out in October that Stand News had been serving as an agent for the US, and he urged the media outlet to publicize its relations with the US government, political figures and nongovernmental organizations.

When Chung announced he was stepping down as editor-in-chief of Stand News in November, some experts like Lau predicted that the decision could signal the end of this anti-government media whose legacy is the infamous role it had played during the social unrest in Hong Kong. And for some local residents in Hong Kong, it is also a cheerful and long-awaited move as such a biased media outlet that only instigates divergence and conflicting sentiment finally came to an end. 

Being confronted with mostly Western media-led criticism, the HKSAR government will continue implementing the national security law for Hong Kong and local regulations as well as newly implemented laws to regulate media outlets, which cannot become platforms for instigating social conflicts or anti-China movements, nor a channel for brainwashing and poisoning the Hong Kong youth, Lau said.