Apple’s daily shutdown could be imminent after fund freeze
by Brian Hioe
PPhoto credit: Studio Incendo / Flickr / CC
THE DAILY APPLE could close in a few days as funds for the pro-democracy Hong Kong tabloid are frozen.
In particular, HK $ 18 million in funds belonging to three companies linked to the newspaper were frozen. This came after five newspaper executives were arrested last Thursday in an incident that also saw five hundred police raiding the Apple Dailyoffices, grabbing computers and documents. Among those arrested were editor-in-chief Ryan Law, CEO of the Apple Dailyeditor, Cheung Kim-hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, associate editor Chan Puiman and editor Cheung Chi-wai.
Photo credit: Studio Incendo / Flickr / CC
Apple Daily Owner Jimmy Lai is already serving jail time for participating in political protests in 2019. Lai’s assets were frozen in May, and the bankers who managed his funds were threatened with up to seven years in prison. Similar measures have been taken against Apple Daily overall, with banks threatened with legal fees for processing Apple Daily funds. The sellers would not have been able to deposit money into accounts belonging to the Apple Daily.
It is believed that the newspaper may cease to appear on Saturday, after a board meeting on Friday to decide the fate of the newspaper, although the newspaper previously said it has enough money to keep operating for a few weeks. It is possible that the Apple Daily can legally challenge the freezing of its funds, although that can be an uphill struggle.
Some aspects of the paper have already stopped working, with the closure of the financial section, the English section, the newspaper’s Twitter account and news program, and reports of massive departures of staff. the Apple DailyThe news program made a final broadcast last night, calling on Hong Kongers to stay strong. An internal memo had been sent to staff members stating that they could resign on Monday, as well as the newspaper could not guarantee its ability to pay them if they stayed.
The Hong Kong government is engaged in a media crackdown, as also demonstrated by actions targeting public broadcaster RTHK. RTHK has seen the removal of its programs, the de facto dismissal of journalists for non-renewal of their contracts, or targeting journalists with legal threats, as happened with freelance writer Bao Choy.
In particular, however, the targeting of Apple Daily provides a striking precedent for other media. the Apple Daily was one of the largest pro-democracy media in Hong Kong and if the Apple Daily was forced to close within days, it shows how quickly the government can move to shut down small outlets.
The arrest of five executives of the Apple Daily was important because they were accused of colluding with foreign forces to incite sanctions against Hong Kong. It would be an attempt to smear the media with allegations of collaborating with foreign forces to undermine Hong Kong, as participants in pro-democracy protests are routinely accused by the government. Western governments have imposed sanctions on Hong Kong in response to the deterioration of political freedoms through measures such as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, claiming that imposing sanctions on Hong Kong is a way to put pressure on China.
However, in particular, after the raid, the police reportedly issued an ultimatum to the Apple Daily that he should delete articles which he said were intended to guarantee foreign sanctions. Hong Kong police had not previously mandated the removal of items they did not approve of or claimed to be aimed at for specific political purposes. Yet in a display of defiance, the Apple Daily always published the night of its raid, by printing an increased circulation of 500,000 copies, with many Hong Kong people tuned in to watch the printing process.
The final broadcast of the new Apple Daily program
It needs to be seen if similar tactics are used against other media outlets in the future, not just with regard to the forced removal of articles, or the forced closure of newspapers by freezing their funds. In particular, with the fall of Apple Daily, this may cause the pro-democracy camp to rely on smaller online media for news. Such media have less overhead and perhaps they can be more nimble, since they are smaller organizations.
Yet even the smallest outlets must access funds to survive. The tactics used against Apple Daily can also be used against smaller outlets, which have fewer resources and weaker legal protection compared to the Apple Daily. Drop the Apple Daily, then, can draw a line in the sand for small outlets.
It can be expected that the shift towards sometimes anonymous individuals acting as citizen journalists or transmitting information via encrypted channels, such as on Telegram or other platforms, will then accelerate with the increased difficulties of operating any media organization in Hong Kong. This may be the future of the media environment in Hong Kong.