The wacky Hong Kong tabloid that refused to bow to Beijing News about press freedom


Hong Kong, China – The latest issue of Apple Daily, the small Hong Kong tabloid newspaper that emerged as China’s champion of democracy and outspoken critic, came out of the press four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary. birthday.

Police had been assaulted twice in the past ten months on suspicion of violating the national security law imposed by Beijing almost a year ago. Since the first raid last August, founder Jimmy Lai, 73, has been in jail awaiting trial by law.

During last week’s raid, five top executives, including its editor-in-chief, were arrested for alleged security offenses when 500 police officers entered Apple headquarters, along with another staff member, the editor. in chief, arrested Wednesday morning.

The last key in the coffin, however, was the freezing of the Hong Kong authorities on the bank accounts of the media group that owns the newspaper. The move made the newspaper unable to pay its staff and suppliers, even when readers obtained copies to show their support.

The decision was based on “employee safety and labor considerations,” Apple Daily said when it announced its closure Wednesday.
“It simply came to our notice then. Take care. “

Apple Daily staff members and its publisher Next Digital applaud the final edition of a document that began publishing in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s side. [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems” aimed at guaranteeing absent rights and freedoms on the continent. For most of the last twenty years, the territory has remained a bulwark of press freedom in a country where the media is stuffed.

“Apple Daily’s demise denies“ one country, two systems ”and sets the stage for“ one country, one system, ”said Willy Lam, a longtime commentator on Chinese politics and a veteran newspaper editor.

Bold, cheeky

Founded just two years before delivery, Apple Daily was both a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The newspaper wanted to have some impact not only in Hong Kong, but also to support China’s liberalization,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the document has focused on defending Hong Kong’s values ​​and holding Beijing accountable.”

In its inaugural editorial, Apple Daily said it intended to be a document for the people of Hong Kong.

Lai, its founder and financier, a devout Catholic who had made a fortune in the fashion business, christened the paper with the name of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. His jingle of rhyming couplets – “An apple a day, no liar can stand” – caught the attention of Hong Kong readers accustomed to more stable offerings.

It was strong. He was bold, he was striking.

The newspaper drew attention when it splashed a surreptitiously shot photo of Deng Xiaoping – the then supreme leader of China, who died in February at the age of 92 – on the deathbed on the front page.

Brutality was his selling point.

His reporters frequently wiped out public officials and stabbed the comfortable.

“He speaks truth to power and finds a way to do it cost-effectively,” said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, alongside one of the printers in 2009, created a very popular newspaper that supported democracy, was not afraid to tell the truth to power, and criticized the Beijing Communist Party. [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Apple Daily founder and financier Jimmy Lai was arrested in August under national security law and the newspaper’s headquarters attacked. He has now been imprisoned [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper fitted the upper and lower face. In the same section of the diary appeared colorful colors of poorly dressed female models that erudite columns with quotations in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a couple of exceptions, his ranks as columnists were who was who of the pro-democracy circle of the territory.

Give people what they want

Launched at the beginning of the Internet age, the newspaper quickly adapted to the digital world. His website pioneered animated news: a mix of photographs, short clips, and clever graphics with a narration with sour sarcasm. His lifestyle channel on YouTube generated a fervent following.

A decade later, newspaper circulation reached a maximum of 500,000 in a city of about six million people with a dozen newspapers.

Apple Daily’s broadcast journalism brand would soon turn the newspaper into a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. But for Lai, a baffling millionaire he called Beijing’s No. 1 public enemy, it was about giving his customers what they would buy, even to protest the billboards.

In the summer of 2019, amid popular opposition to legislation that would send Hong Kong residents to trial in mainland China, the document abbreviated “extradition to China” to the Cantonese homophonic colloquial expression of seeing someone to the grave. The expression immediately caught on and became a cry of concentration of the protest movement.

“Sometimes we could have gone overboard, but everything we did was within the bounds of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the past three years.

That is until the passage of the security law, which punishes what the authorities consider subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life sentences.

Prosecutors have used Lai’s frequent meetings with U.S. officials in recent years, from then-vice president down, as “proof” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers.”

Apple Daily staff and its publisher Next Digital are working on the final edition of their newspaper on June 23rd. In its first editorial, the newspaper said it wanted to be a Hong Kong people publication. It printed one million copies of its final edition [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Earlier last month, rumors began circulating that Beijing wanted the newspaper closed in time for the Communist Party’s centennial celebrations on July 1.

Technology journalist for a decade, Alex Tang, 37, said, like most of his colleagues, that he had conditioned himself on taking untested gossip with a grain of salt, until the second raid and the freezing of the company’s assets.

Over the past few days, some of the newspaper’s 800 reporters have been frustrated by the lack of a definitive response by the latest publication date and the cessation.

“Management said they would hold out until the bitter end and they have kept their word,” Tang said. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will live as a website on the autonomous island of Taiwan, where it stopped publishing on paper last month.

But in Hong Kong, Chinese journalist Chan said he will mourn the loss of much more than his livelihood.

“With the document gone, there would also be the values ​​it represents: the pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.

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