EXECUTIVE EDITOR ZHI JIAO DANIELLE GOH WRITES — Legend has it that an apple a day keeps the lie away.
That was the slogan of Apple Daily, the most vocal pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. But what happens when the apple tree falls?
On Thursday, Apple Daily printed its last edition after 26 years of operating. Just last week, rumors of its shutdown spread after the newspaper’s offices were raided for the second time in a year, arresting five executives. Around 500 police officers were involved in the operation, confiscating journalists’ computers and printed materials. Jimmy Lai, the owner of Apple Daily, has also been recently sentenced to jail for unauthorized assembly in 2019 under the newly imposed national security law last June.
The last straw of its downfall came from the freezing of assets linked to the newspaper by the government — assets that would have allowed it to print for at least 18 more months.
“Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourselves,” the paper said in an online article.
Apple Daily, though not the finest paper to represent Hong Kong media, has its significance with the closure. Many marked the act as the end of an era for media freedom in Hong Kong and at the same time, verifying Beijing’s move to put the city on a more authoritarian path.
Nonetheless, not everyone is grieving over the farewell. Mainland media, who nicknamed Apple Daily as “the poisonous apple”, are celebrating its downfall. They have also denounced the platform for using freedom of expression as a shield to spread fake news and hatred.
Can Apple Daily’s shutdown be a lesson for the local media industry to report more responsibly or would it be the chilling effect for an ever tightening control of the city?
The Hong Kong media aren’t the only ones questioning about their future. Financial sectors are wary that the example of Apple Daily’s assets which were frozen under the national security law would be a strong persuading factor for foreign companies to back out of the city before the same tactic is used on them.
When the national security law was imposed, Hong Kong Chief executive, Carrie Lam, lauded the Beijing-imposed law for helping to bring harmony to the city.
But how do we define harmony?
Quoting from When Heaven Burns, a 2011 banned TVB (a television broadcasting company based in Hong Kong) drama series which portrayed a bleak Hong Kong society: “Harmony isn’t about a hundred people saying the same thing. Harmony is about a hundred people having a hundred different opinions, yet at the same time, respect one another.”
History has a tendency to repeat itself, especially the history of China. As the clock struck midnight, Apple Daily’s newsroom turned off its last light and buried everything alive in the dark, Qin Dynasty style.
Zhi Jiao Danielle Goh is the Executive Editor of Asia Media International.
She will soon begin her intensive graduate work at the School of Advanced
International Studies Washington, D.C. Founded in 1943, SAIS, a division
of Johns Hopkins University, has been accorded in rankings as high as
the number-two master’s program for a policy career in international
relations in the U.S.