One Media Group, which has had its funds frozen by Hong Kong authorities under national security laws, has decided to set this Friday (June 25) as the deadline for ceasing publication. If Hong Kong’s Security Bureau refuses to unfreeze the funds, making it impossible for Next Media, which has a strong anti-China stance, to pay its staff, then its Apple Daily will cease operations and publish its last daily newspaper on Saturday.
Apple Daily’s news content and reporting style have been controversial for years, but its outspoken style has won it a large number of supporters. Many loyal readers have lamented the possible end of Apple Daily. Industry insiders say Apple Daily’s fate reflects the “ban on newspapers” that has come to Hong Kong.
Apple Daily’s operation enters countdown
One Media’s Apple Daily has entered a countdown in its operation in Hong Kong. A large number of employees left the Next Media building in Tseung Kwan O Industrial Park on Monday night (June 21) with their personal belongings. It is reported that many employees resigned on the same day, including online moving news all clipping employees. At 9:30 p.m. that night, the Apple News anchor announced to the audience in front of the camera that the news was off the air. The anchor said, “I’m sorry to tell you that tonight is the last night to broadcast 9:30 dynamic news.”
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau last week invoked the provisions of the National Security Law to freeze about 18 million Hong Kong dollars of assets of three companies related to Apple Daily, and asked seven local banks not to handle the assets of the three companies’ accounts. Next Media’s board of directors sent a letter to the Hong Kong Security Bureau on Monday requesting that some of the assets be unfrozen, and decided to use Friday as the deadline for the operation. If the funds are not unfrozen, the online moving news will be shut down at 11:59 p.m. that night and the last issue of Apple Daily will be published on Saturday.
The online version of Apple Daily Finance will cease to be updated as of early Tuesday morning. Some sections such as Courts and Static will operate until Friday, and the directors of International, Breaking News and English have resigned.
However, some Apple reporters still said they intend to continue working until the last minute.
One Apple Daily reporter, who asked not to be named, told the Voice of America, “I think I’ll stay until the last minute because I think everyone here is hot and it’s worth it to stay one more second and feel one more second of hotness.”
Apple Daily was still published on Tuesday morning, including Hong Kong news, finance and entertainment pages. The front page of the newspaper mentioned that the board of directors of Next Media sent a letter to the Security Bureau, requesting that some assets be unfrozen by Friday, otherwise the online news will be closed that night and the last daily newspaper will be published on Saturday.
Lam Cheng: National Security Law can not be null and void
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor broke her silence on Tuesday (June 22) to respond to the Apple Daily facing closure. She said the implementation of Hong Kong’s national security law will soon be a year, the authorities will not let this law is null and void.
Carrie Lam said: “You cannot say that this work is a crackdown on press freedom on the basis that the suspected organization is a news agency and the suspected person is the head of the news agency. In other words, the head of a news organization cannot use this as a protective shield to disobey the law just because he belongs to a news organization. It is fine to criticize the SAR government, but if there is an intention and organization to incite subversion of the SAR government, it is certainly a different matter.”
Mrs. Lam said that freezing the assets of the investigation target is an international practice, she did not directly respond whether she would unfreeze the assets to pay staff salaries as requested by Next Media.
Chan Long-sing, the new chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said many of the departing Apple Daily employees are responsible for breaking news, and online breaking news is an important part of Apple Daily, so it will have a big impact. He estimated that Apple Daily would have difficulty continuing to operate, describing it as the end of an era.
Self-discontinuation compared to “euthanasia”
Ms. Chan, a native of Hong Kong, is a loyal reader of Apple Daily. She used to think that Apple Daily tended to be vulgar and sensationalistic in its social and entertainment news content in order to attract attention, but it is one of the few exceptions to the rule that most newspapers in Hong Kong are now “relegated” to the sidelines and lack criticality.
Ms. Chan told VOA, “If you compare the front pages of all Hong Kong newspapers, you will find that every newspaper except Apple Daily is pro-government and avoids criticism of the government as much as possible. The 4 June incident and the demonstrations are news that these newspapers may report, but they may not put it on the front page. This will affect the public’s understanding of society.”
Some people believe that the closure of Apple Daily is akin to a “natural death” or “euthanasia” compared to the original expectation that the newspaper would be banned by the government.
Ms. Chan said, “There is no big difference between forcing it to shut down (I don’t know what that means) and freezing its accounts and arresting its executives, but the latter may be a bigger deterrent to journalists. Although the authorities have not said they will arrest journalists, they feel the risk of doing so, not knowing if and when they will be arrested, and not knowing if they will be able to move to other newspapers. Will I be the next to be arrested? Or should I just stop doing journalism? Many journalists have a lot of question marks.”
Capturing the anxiety of the post-return era
The sensationalist and image-focused reporting style of Apple Daily, which was launched in 1995, brought a new era to Hong Kong’s newspaper industry, but it also caused widespread controversy as a result, according to Lydia Leung, a lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
In its first decade of publication, Apple Daily drew a lot of criticism about the ethics of the news industry, which was problematic, but it also drew the attention of many readers who felt that reading the newspaper was no longer about rational thinking, but about pleasure,” Leung told Voice of America. It is using a very extreme approach to express the emotions behind the news, and this is arguably where Apple Daily succeeds.”
Another reason why Apple Daily has garnered a large number of supporters is that it captures the anxiety that Hong Kong faces in the post-handover era, according to Lydia Leung.
It would take some political events and put them in an emotional package,” said Leong. This has created a trend of so-called ‘populism. ‘Populism’ is the use of citizens’ perspectives and voices to observe the political environment. It also echoes the fears of Hong Kong people: fear of China, fear of the future, fear of failing to grasp Hong Kong’s future.”
Lui Ping-kuen, a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that the survival of Apple Daily, which dared to report on voices other than the “main theme,” would be seen as “the summer and winter watch of one country, two systems. Once Apple Daily disappears, it will bring losses to Hong Kong people and the public’s right to know. Lui said that after the outbreak of the anti-China movement in Hong Kong, Beijing has been looking at local media reports from the perspective of national security, and it is expected to influence the media in different ways in the future.
Media Personality: Newspaper Ban Has Begun
Lee Yuet-wah, a veteran media personality who has worked for Next Media for 19 years, is saddened by the possible suspension of Apple Daily. She believes that the “newspaper ban” in Hong Kong has already begun, describing the red line in Hong Kong as a “red sea” where any action can be said to be illegal. She believes the authorities are not just targeting Next Media founder Lai Chi-ying and Apple Daily.
The “newspaper ban” that Li Yuet-hua refers to was once in place in Taiwan during the 1950s and 1980s, when martial law was in force. At that time, the national government imposed restrictions on everything from distribution and printing to content, and the newspapers published daily became an important tool for promoting party-state ideology.
Tseng Chien-yuan, chairman of the board of directors of the Chinese Democratic Institute in Taiwan, believes that the current situation of the media in Hong Kong is worse than that of Taiwan decades ago.
Speaking to the Voice of America, Tseng said, “During the martial law period (in Taiwan), press censorship was all after the fact. The more common government practice was to let each newspaper form a self-censorship and use fines as punishment, at best. Freezing a newspaper’s property so that it cannot operate further infringes on the newspaper’s and, by extension, the people’s property rights. Property is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The matter is very important, in Taiwan must be through the court’s decision, only then may go to freeze.”
Some analysts believe that after the passage of the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law in 2020, although the apparent implementation of Hong Kong common law, behind the scenes, there is the National Security Law added, so that the common law can be strictly interpreted, or even change the way the common law is implemented.
Tsang Kin-yuen said, “There is an explicit provision in the Hong Kong national security law that all laws that contradict the national security law are invalid. The four national security crimes under the National Security Law are all related to the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, which is the same as the rest of the world, protecting the freedom of thought, speech, publication and writing, but in the National Security Law, this has become a crime instead. After the implementation of the National Security Law, Hong Kong’s future freedom of expression, freedom of publication and freedom of writing will certainly receive restrictions.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Price recently expressed the U.S. government’s deep concern that Hong Kong authorities are selectively and politically motivated in invoking the National Security Law to arbitrarily target individual media organizations, noting that stifling media freedom will undermine Hong Kong’s ability to serve as an international financial center.
According to the company’s annual report, Next Media had 1,275 Hong Kong employees at the end of March 2020. Mark Simon, an adviser to Next Media founder Lai Chi-ying, who is currently in the United States, was quoted by Reuters by phone as saying that some of its suppliers had tried to help Next Media through its difficulties and had been refused permission to deposit funds into bank accounts, leaving the company unable to operate in the banking system.