A Sad Death In Hong Kong

China Delivers Sad Demise for Apple Daily in Hong Kong …     


U.S. President Joe Biden  called it “a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world ” when Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, was smothered to death by China’s leaders …

I have never read the now-defunct newspaper, whose demise was carefully coordinated and carried out at the behest of  Beijing, but I — like untold numbers of others, who appreciate fearless, truth-telling journalism wherever it appears — am still mourning the death of a brave enterprise that knew its very existence was a day-to-day proposition, and yet, fought hard to keep telling the truth in the face of enormous odds.

I spent nearly 40 years in newspapers and the media, here in The States, with newspapers, large and small, print and online. I know how difficult it is to keep them going and turn a profit — even in good economic times.

Yet, serving a small community,  or a vast metropolitan area, by holding elected officials’ feet to the fire, informing people how their governments and other  public entities are operating, is rewarding.

Apple Daily, a tabloid newspaper, founded by businessman Jimmy Lai, began operating in June of 1995, according to Wikipedia, and became one of the best-selling Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong. It was soon publishing print, and digital editions.

Eventually, its print edition had a circulation of more than 86,000. And its on-line editions reached hundreds of thousands of loyal readers.

I think it is safe to say that its existent and its support of pro-Democracy ideas, protests and demonstrations gave leaders in Beijing a sour stomach every time a new edition hit the streets or the internet.

Newspapers, simply put, are important players in the life of any community. They keep residents informed of problems; raise necessary questions about important projects and “deals” that could reward the players handsomely, but at the expense of others.

They have the ability to dig for, and interpret important facts,  that may be crucial in keeping a community healthy and functioning well. When necessary, they can shine a blistering spotlight on those whose actions could harm the community. Yet, they also cast warm lights of recognition and praise on those who serve their community well.

Even though businessman Jimmy Lai and his crew were almost certainly upbeat and believed their efforts would be rewarded when they launched the paper in 1995, it is also likely that the  brutal mechanism of the paper’s demise had already been set in place years earlier — in 1984 — when the British government and China reached an agreement to return Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997. 

At the time, however, Hong Kong was a flourishing island of Capitalist prosperity, whose residents enjoyed far more freedom than the inhabitants of mainland China. In the 1984 agreement, China had  pledged to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system.

With British control and oversight removed, Beijing’s somewhat loose-hand approach has evolved greatly over the intervening years, much to the chagrin of Hong Kong residents.

As for Apple Daily, the Chinese government’s passage of a National Security law that penalizes free speech and anti-government demonstrations, sealed its fate.  Not too long after the law was passed, police raided the paper’s headquarters, crippling its operations.

Lai, according to a Wikipedia report, was arrested in December 2020 and sentenced to jail in April, 2021.

As president Biden said back in June of this year, the security law “suppresses independent media and silences dissenting views.”

Its searing aim was focused with precision and unrelenting might on a business that had apparently become — in Beijing’s eyes — as much an enemy as a hostile foreign power.

It was only a matter of time before Apple Daily would fall. The level of harassment of the paper was blistering and unrelenting. Yet, the paper fought on, hoping to — somehow — survive.

On June 17, 2021, however, Hong Kong authorities — no doubt at the behest of Beijing — froze the assets of the company and its founder, Jimmy Lai. The newspaper was unable to pay its employees or its other expenses.

The newspaper was silenced. Beijing had won in the manner of so many powerful, but intolerant governments, that use might, threats and persecutions to bend their people to the will of those who govern. 

They control through mandate and fear. There is often little room — if any — for negotiation, and certainly not for compromise.

Fear, unfortunately, is the primary tool. And you can’t  dominate by fear without might. Nations, who operate this way, feel justified in making sure their citizens — “subjects” might be a better term — fear them so much that they won’t even think about challenging them or their authority.

But, let’s think about this fear approach for a moment. It might be wise to consider carefully: Who is really more afraid?

— The people who are hog-tied and cowered by their leaders?

— Or the leaders, who are so fearful of the people they govern, that they are afraid to raise their foot off their necks, even a little?