Asia Minute: New Threats to Journalism in Hong Kong

Aug 11, 2020

It’s been six weeks since China passed a new security law covering Hong Kong — and one day since a new round of high-profile arrests. One of those arrests underlines how far the practice of journalism is now under threat in the city.

Jimmy Lai’s arrest got a lot of publicity around the world Monday.

NPR called him a “media tycoon” which is technically true, even though he made his initial fortune in the clothing business. But it’s his publication “Apple Daily” and what it’s grown to represent that’s also an important part of this story.

The newspaper started out as Hong Kong’s first tabloid in 1995 — two years before Hong Kong was returned to Chinese control. The newspaper was never hesitant to be critical of government — both in Hong Kong and in Beijing.

Lai was never shy about publicity, building Apple Daily to the number two or three spot of circulation in a big newspaper city.

The publication has always been heavy on entertainment news, celebrity profiles, local crime stories — a tone closer to the New York Post than the New York Times. But over the years the paper has maintained criticism of the Chinese government, and any erosion of rights under what’s called Hong Kong’s “basic law” laying out the promise of “one country, two systems.”

More recently, it’s backed democracy protestors.

On Monday, authorities arrested Jimmy Lai at home, and raided the offices and the newsroom of Apple Daily — both with plenty of television coverage.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong said the moves “signal a dark new phase in the erosion of the city’s global reputation.”