Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

The Dynamics of Mainstream and Internet Alternative Media in Hong Kong: A Case Study of the Umbrella Movement +

Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

The Dynamics of Mainstream and Internet Alternative Media in Hong Kong: A Case Study of the Umbrella Movement +

Article excerpt

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1. Introduction

Existing literatures recognise that the Chinese government has been attempting to control Hong Kong media through inducing media self-censorship since the 1997 handover, which is seen as a threat to press freedom (Lee and Lin, 2006; Ma, 2007). A survey in 2014 showed that 49.1 per cent of citizens believed the Hong Kong media practised self-censorship (HKUPOP, 2014a) and 56.7 per cent believed the media had reservations about criticising the Chinese government (HKUPOP, 2014b). The problem of media self-censorship is especially evident in relation to politically sensitive news topics. These include Taiwan independence, commemoration of the Tiananmen incident, and the legal status of the Falun Gong in Hong Kong, because they either directly or indirectly challenge the legitimacy and authority of Beijing (Lee and Chan, 2009). Thus, media treatments of these topics are also what most academics and commentators make reference to when evaluating media self-censorship (Cheung, 2003; Fung, 2007). Given this situation, a series of academic works have found that most mainstream media organisations tend to avoid these sensitive matters or use alternative means (inviting external commentaries or employing foreign media reports) to handle these issues in order not to provoke the Chinese leaders (Lee, 2000; 2007).

Since September 2014, the Umbrella Movement has become another politically sensitive topic. It used blocking of main roads as a protest strategy, urging the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) to retract the framework of the Chief Executive Election method in 2017, and calling for more democracy in Hong Kong. In local eyes, the movement was mainly led by university and secondary school students to fight for a Chief Executive Election without "unreasonable political screening". However, in Beijing's assessment, this movement was a challenge to its authority. Some argued this campaign was a "colour revolution", funded by Western governments, in an attempt to overthrow the Chinese regime in Hong Kong. A number of pro-China media even declared this movement is in fact fighting for "the independence of Hong Kong". It is under this circumstance that news of the Umbrella Movement was intentionally filtered or blocked on the mainland. So, how have mainstream and Internet alternative media in Hong Kong responded to this politically sensitive topic?

By examining the case study of the Umbrella Movement, this article argues that most mainstream media organisations took an anti-movement stance and continuously practised self-censorship whereas an increasing number of Hong Kong people criticised their performance and paid more attention to the Internet alternative media, mostly offering pro-movement information. Thus, the circulation of Internet news expanded alarmingly during the movement.

2. Theoretical Review: The Dynamics of Mainstream and Internet Alternative Media

In the field of media studies, the dynamic between mainstream and Internet alternative media has developed into an important theoretical perspective. By definition, "Internet alternative media" refers to media organisations with their own news reporting team (e.g. editors and journalists) and news reports which mainly rely on the Internet (e.g. Facebook or webpage, etc.) for message delivery (Morone, 2013) while "mainstream media" refers to the traditional media organisations (e.g. TV, newspaper and radio, etc.) that capture the attention of the majority of society and hold the symbolic power to present and define "social reality" (Couldry, 2000). With the Internet having become popular in recent decades, the production and distribution cost for operating alternative media organisations has decreased, thus facilitating people's participation in coproduction of alternative media content and reaching a wide audience. More importantly, Internet alternative media provide more options to audience instead of only relying on traditional media (Bennett and Iyengar, 2008). …

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