Profiling Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s most sensational and outspokenly anti-Communist news outlets established by Jimmy Lai, founder of fashion giant Giordano, as it undergoes a series of shadowy threats from numerous underground organizations, one alerting concern also currently being faced by numerous independent journalists living in the semi-independent city-state of what they perceive as ‘Beijing’s increasingly tightening grip on the city’s media industry and freedom of expression’.
Read the full article in Foreign Policy.
Lai is the most powerful critic of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, if not the world. Next Media now employs more than 4,000 people, according to company executives, and also owns popular entertainment magazines and web portals. His flagship tabloid, Apple Daily, founded in 1995, introduced Hong Kong to an irreverent mix of salacious Fleet Street-style journalism and political activism. Lai brought large-character tabloid headlines, web-cam “scoops” of celebrities backstage, irrelevant animations of breaking domestic and international news stories, and front-page calls for protests. But his biggest cause is what in Hong Kong is called “universal suffrage” — the right of citizens, not a council, to choose their chief executive.
Whoever wanted to silence Lai and his activism has instead increased public support for his cause and driven traffic to his websites. Just hours after the fourth triad-style attack, on July 1, tens of thousands of peopletook to the streets calling for genuine democratic elections in 2017.According to internal figures shown to Foreign Policy, traffic to the Hong Kong website has surged to about 20 million page views each day, and that’s not including a staggering 10 million daily views of the news and animation videos.
But Lai’s dream of universal suffrage for Hong Kong is looking less and less likely — and the city’s famously open and cacophonous media landscape is under threat. Hong Kong’s independent-minded journalists are complaining that opinion columns are being tampered with, popular columnists sacked, and news self-censored by tremulous editors. This media crackdown reflects a trend of Beijing tightening its control on Hong Kong. “The Chinese Communist Party’s growing subjugation of the Hong Kong executive and its pressure on the Hong Kong media through its ‘Liaison Office’ is increasingly compromising media pluralism there,” Reporters Without Borders said in a February report. Hong Kong has slid to 61 out of 180 countries and territories on the organization’s World Press Freedom Index, down from 18 in 2002.
And the challenges keep coming. This year, as the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from Britain to Beijing again approaches, the 66-year-old Lai faces a different kind of threat. Now, two Western financial institutions — banks nurtured in the laws and freedoms of the British Empire — appear to be boycotting Lai’s Hong Kong media business in service of Beijing.