For three consecutive days, the police commissioner has implied his intention to take action against Apple Daily. As a member of the National Security Council, who is so powerful that he can do anything, his message should not be taken lightly. It seems that the day when the government will strike again to get rid of Apple Daily is not far away.
The intentions of the SAR government and Beijing have been obvious to all for some time, and the removal of targeted advertisements did not just start today. A former Chief Executive also used to count the number of advertisements published in Apple Daily every day, calling for a boycott. It has been said that some merchants who had previously placed advertisements in Apple Daily have received persuasive phone calls. After the enactment of the National Security Law, Tian Feilong, the new defender of the law, has already spoken out last year to outlaw Apple Daily. In an earlier meeting in Beijing, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office specifically said that Jimmy Lai must be severely punished. Time and again, the police have used different reasons to harass Next Media. To take such a stern approach towards a media organization shows precisely the magnitude of the determination of the powers at work! Now the mouthpiece of the Hong Kong Liaison Office has spoken out, and the police chief in his dual capacity as a member of the National Security Council has made high-profile though unnamed criticisms for several days in a row, it can be said that these are pretty clear indicative signs.
There is no real accusation in what the police chief said, it is just a case of poisoning the well. The photo of a child pointing a gun at the classmate’s head taken on National Security Education Day by an overseas news agency has been widely reported in the media, and published in some major overseas newspapers, which almost unanimously questioned this practice. Not mentioning other media outlets but only Apple Daily demonstrates exactly the quality of the so-called rule of law that the government is preaching nowadays. Although Chris Tang’s accusations were harsh, they were also vague and flimsy, which was why he had to use his title of “Police Commissioner” to build up his case. At the press conference, he responded to questions in a way that did not intend to convince people by being rational, but merely to cover up his unreasonableness by being loud and illogical with his tyrannical power in hand.
Judging from what the government has done in the past few months, the regime is no longer trying to justify itself to the people of Hong Kong. When there is no reasoning on the table, the only thing left is blatant tyranny. So it seems that the ill-fated destiny of Apple Daily will be inevitable. It appears that this day is not too far away as the police chief was commissioned to deliver the message, but I hope this is only the author being pessimistic.
Hong Kong’s political quagmire has long been unquenchable because of institutional flaws and Beijing’s burying its head in the sand on the one hand and its failure to deliver on its promises on the other, resulting in repeated outbreaks of governance crises over the past 23 years. When those in power cannot convince people with reason, they will only think of silencing dissenting voices. When the first Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was still in office, he already tried to crack down on opinions that the government did not want to hear, explicitly saying that he wanted to “deal with the issue of RTHK.” Later on, there was talk of “clamping down on two radio stations” and the need to deal with a few print media that still managed to maintain a certain degree of independence.
Does this really make the government’s administration smoother? Over the past decade or so, the “two radio stations” have already vanished, and the few newspapers that used to be more independent are now almost all self-censoring. Today, facing the SAR government and Beijing, they cannot even provide small constructive criticisms! Recently, even RTHK, the most credible media outlet and winner of numerous awards around the world, seemed to have been conquered.
According to the government’s logic, hasn’t most of the lost ground in the realm of ideology been recovered? The question should be, has the performance of the government seen any improvement? Has the prestige of governance been enhanced as a result? Not only have they not, but the governance crisis in Hong Kong is increasing day by day. Is this not enough to prove the absurdity of putting all the blame on the media?
If the SAR government had not had problems of its own, would it have been “discredited” and “slandered” by the media? Such an attitude actually shows that the government is irresponsible and has no ability to reflect on its own faults. It is impossible to convince the public by constantly looking for a scapegoat and refusing to admit its own mistakes and the inadequacy of the system. It just keeps censoring the media and suppressing speech, which has been proven to be the wrong antidote for so many years.
If they really try again to finish off Apple Daily, will everything be smooth sailing for the SAR government thereafter? Will Hong Kong people no longer be “incited” by the truth and facts, and will then onwards accept all the lies and distortions? It seems that this is yet another misjudgment. In the past few years, have those media that have been controlled by the government increased their sales or have they been losing readers? By allowing an administrative officer with zero media experience to continuously remove the most popular programs from RTHK, in the end, the number of listeners and viewers simply dropped dramatically within a short period of time. Even some news and current affairs programs that have escaped cancellation have recently suffered a significant drop in their audience.
Even if the government does go out of its way to shamelessly uproot Apple Daily, Hong Kong people may indeed be left with one less choice. However, the loss of a delicacy does not mean that Hong Kong people will have to resort to the crap fed by the regime and its mouthpieces. Over the past decade or so, independent and autonomous media have all fallen one by one, but emerging media and information channels are still finding their places. Those dominated by the regime have only been losing ground as they simply cannot replace the others.
If Apple Daily ultimately is forced to fold, the newspaper’s perseverance over the years will become the collective memory of Hong Kong people, and Apple Daily will remain a landmark of Hong Kong’s civilized past. It may inevitably fall, but it is only a testimony to political degradation and power decay. Who will be a disgrace to Hong Kong people, to civilization, and to history? The answer has long been spelled out.
(Chung Kim-wah, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute)
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