Don’t Underestimate New Media

Shortly after Chinese New Year the Civic Party hosted a senior media figure for a talk on press freedom in Hong Kong. During this talk, the issue of alternative news and media was raised, including the role and impact of House News on the local news and media scene. The speaker was adamant this “new media” was unimportant. Hong Kong is, he claimed, a community that is still both very well served and well represented by traditional media sources.

I wasn’t at the talk. I heard about what was said from a friend who was. He emailed me the very same night. I could almost see him shaking his head in disbelief at what he heard as I read his words. It was yet another example that whilst the Civic Party may fight many of our battles, and is a party worthy of our support, it really does not and can not in it’s present form represent the majority. The lawyers party has always been too much that. It is too upper-middle class; to clever, too reasonable and too calculated to represent the growing frustration that the majority of Hong Kong working people feel towards the way our city and our society is being forced to change. Frustration, when you’re struggling to pay the rent and make ends meet, is not rational.

It is not surprising that the speaker played down the affect of new media. In many ways the Civic Party resembles the best of traditional media, whether it be Ming Pao, the HK Economic Journal, RTHK, and to a lesser degree the South China Morning Post. (Our terrestrial television channels have arguably never been worthy of much more than distraction.) Both are generally respected, and bring with them a history and a reputation built up over the years. Many of us feel indebted to them for having fought our fights, and for continuing to fight them. But as with the Civic Party, respect is quite different from saying that they are representative of us. This is especially true for the younger generation. They may fight our fights, but do they still fight them as we want them to be fought and in a language that we understand?

Whilst traditional media may still play a role, it is my belief that this role is changing. It is no longer dominant in the way it was in the past. New times, new situations and new relationships with a new power demand new approaches that traditional media is neither placed nor, it often seems, willing to undertake. This is a space that new media does not so much as occupy, but has evolved to fill. And it is a space that I see increasing, especially as the current younger generations come to define our community.

We should take note when a youtube video expressing a group of Hong Kong residents’ frustration with Mainland interference can notch up half a million views. The old guard dismiss this at their peril. The beauty of new media is that it is representative. There is no small group of professional writers reporting news of shaping opinion. New media allows the audience to not only be heard, but to define the format that best suits what they have to say.

We should not ignore new media. We should not turn a blind eye to the fact that the combined youtube hits for various videos of Nasty China Style (核突支那Style), a anti-Mainland take on Gangnam Style, would top the turnout of voters at the last legislative council election, and that the likes are more than those that mandate many members of Legco to speak on our behalf. Neither should we deny that the young of Hong Kong, the same crowd that we so easily patronize as being apolitical, not only invest significant time and resources into writing songs or shooting videos (進擊的蝗蟲, or 蝗蟲天下) that are political, but that these songs and videos spread faster online than any paper or journal at a news agent. Simplistic they may seem at face value, perhaps even crude, but so arguably is all artistic endeavours when taken at face value. There significance and meaning should not be discounted.


Screen capture of Youtube video “Nasty China Style”


Instead we should realise that each compliments each other. There is a place for traditional media, as there is a place for traditional politics. But that there is also a place for the more reflexive formats of newer forms of media. As with illegal video streaming and music file sharing and the legal film and music market, they do not represent exclusive communities. The community is the same, and the formats are mutually supporting. We trawl through sounds, sights and sensations we not only find what it is we want, but we learn to understand and appreciate it more deeply. We then go to the shops and buy the DVD.

The new media that some are so eager to put down, and others are equally eager to agree is of little “real” importance, as being amateur, immature, unconsidered or naive, engages far more young people than traditional media. It is a format a generation have been brought up to understand differently. When once a teenager or university student read to learn, today, whilst the school curriculum may still be printed, it is online and through more sensational mediums that they learn. The newspaper, once the only source of news, is now a supplement to tweets, blogs and other formats that are both more accessible and present news in a way that the young today understand.

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