Hong Kong’s “Apple Daily” has been out of print for more than a year, and many members of management and editorial staff have been arrested and are still remanded in jail. With the fall of “Apple,” Hong Kong’s media at large has also entered an ice age. Under the “supervision” of the “National Security Law (NSL),” mainstream HK media boasts in unison, on a daily basis, the government and the CCP.
Even if there are still a few that have not yet turned “completely red,” they also need to be particularly vigilant and struggle on every report and every word to ensure they do not touch that invisible red line.
The shutdown of “Apple” partly represents the end of an era for press freedom in Hong Kong, but there are still some people and institutions that have not forgotten about it. The First Amendment Museum in the U.S. recently held a virtual exhibition on its web, which displayed an English version of the front page (A1) of the last edition of “Apple Daily” to let the world understand how “Apple” fell.
Although “Apple Daily” was once regarded as “inciting, lewd, and bloody” by the outside world during its early days, it also led, in part, to the reform of Hong Kong’s newspaper industry. And its support for democracy was also seen as a key voice daring to defy “the authority and strive for Hong Kong’s democracy.”
However, since the implementation of the NSL in June 2020, the National Security Department has not just searched the main office building of “Apple” twice but also arrested a number of its high-level executives, including founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, and froze the financial assets of Next Media and its subsidiaries at the end of June last year (2021). With the increasing hardship in operation due to the freeze of funds, Apple Daily finally announced that it would officially suspend publication after the last printed edition on June 24, 2021.
The front page of this last “Apple Daily” was titled “Hong Kong People make a sorry farewell under the rain, underlined by the catchphrase “We Support Apple.” Inside, it briefly described the history of the paper and the major news events it had covered over the years. The last “Apple” also published its own “farewell letter to the people of Hong Kong,” saying the newspaper had been targeted by the government in recent years when some people even published the personal details of its journalists online.
But even under such uninterrupted threats from White Terror, “Apple” persisted until the very last moment and expressed gratitude to its readers, advertisers, and Hong Kong people for their support over the previous 26 years and their belief in always “walking with the Apple.” It also pointed out that the founder of Next Media, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, was aware of the management’s decision to stop running “Apple,” and expressed that he “fully understands the decision of my colleagues.”
“Apple Daily” was founded in 1995, when Hong Kong was on the verge of its handover to China. The first editorial of “Apple” pointed out that although the HK future was uncertain and full of worries, “Apple” still chose to remain in this place it called home and refused to be compromised by fear. On the front page of “Apple” on July 2, 1997, the title was “Hong Kong Believes in a Future,” expressing its belief that under the Basic Law and the principle of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy,” Hong Kong’s freedom and civilization will be guaranteed. Derived from that, it believed Hong Kong people could enjoy prosperity, stability, human rights, and dignity. However, the promise of “No change over the next 50 years” has been deteriorating over the past two decades, when freedom has not only been compromised but has also brought “Apple” to a halt.
The demise of “Apple” not only made many Hong Kong people sad but also became an event of concern around the world, and it has not been forgotten even with the passage of time. The First Amendment Museum in the U.S. is currently displaying an English translation of Apple Daily’s last-day front page in a virtual exhibition on its website. The website’s exhibit profile states that the CCP, through the NSL, empowers the government to arrest critics in the media and education, which led to the disappearance of “Apple Daily;” and continued to detain Jimmy Lai, who had won the Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders “Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF).”
The name of the First Amendment Museum is indeed derived from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the U.S. Congress from enacting any laws that regulate an establishment of religion, or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly or the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Since its establishment, the museum has held many physical and virtual exhibitions, most related to freedom of speech.
The pavilion of the First Amendment Museum is a former mansion once owned by the family of the late Maine media mogul Guy Gannett. Guy Gannett founded the “Portland Press Herald” in 1921. He had always supported the freedom of the press and speech. He once said that the newspaper is not private property but an institution involving public interest. He strongly opposed the use of the media for political propaganda. After the Gannett family moved out of the mansion in the 1920s, the Maine state government acquired the mansion in the 1970s as an office. Until the end of 2015, the Gannett family repurchased the mansion, restored and renovated it, and used it as the site of the First Amendment Museum to commemorate Guy Gannett’s life-long ambition of guarding the freedom of the press and speech.
Many Hong Kong people welcomed and thanked the First Amendment Museum’s exhibition of “Apple Daily.” Some people thought it showed that the values of speech and press freedom in Hong Kong were running counter to the passage of time. Some netizens said that although “Apple Daily” has been suspended for more than a year, they still miss it.
In the past, Hong Kong was the only place in China that could publicly commemorate the victims of June 4th. However, with the implementation of the National Security Law, many pro-democracy and media organizations have been disbanded and stopped. There may not be any large-scale commemoration of June 4 in Hong Kong anymore, even when the COVID-19-induced “prohibition on gathering” is rescinded. Without the media and its voices monitoring the government, the assimilation of Hong Kong by the mainland will become an irreversible fate, and the death knell for freedom of speech in Hong Kong has already been ringing loudly.