In 2000, I returned to Hong Kong after finishing a postgraduate diploma in journalism at the University of Sheffield. When I was in the UK, I had interned at the Financial Times, learning from other colleagues of FT.com on how to write the euro-dollar trend. My colleagues at that time asked me if I would stay in the UK or return to Hong Kong. I was very young. I didn’t know how to respond. All I wanted was to reunite with my family in Hong Kong. Before returning to Hong Kong, I applied for the cadetship at the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the city’s oldest and largest English newspaper. I was lucky to get the job.
I still remember that the then-deputy editor of SCMP asked me during the interview how I thought of Apple Daily (the then-most popular Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong that was forced to fold in 2021 and the paper’s founder Jimmy Lai and several other senior executives were arrested and charged with national security charges after the Hong Kong version of National Security Law was imposed by the Chinese government in 2020). Most people at that time considered Apple Daily a tabloid that covered entertainment gossips and paparazzi-style news stories. However, as the deputy editor asked me that question and I needed to read the local Chinese newspapers for work, I started reading Apple Daily every day.
Many scoops were covered by the Apple Daily. Local news editors and reporters would usually read Apple Daily first and find out what top news had been covered. Some colleagues might detest the kinds of news covered by the paper, while others would seriously follow up the news as the source of their stories. Other newspapers? My memory might have lapsed but I could recall that most colleagues would spend their time reading Apple Daily first.
After cadetship, I originally wanted to join the “Focus” section that published the op-eds and other news commentaries. But as a green reporter, I wasn’t dare to ask to continue working at the opinion section where all the colleagues were very experienced journalists. So, I chose to work at the court desk. I was responsible for following the other senior court reporters to cover the magistrates’ courts and District Court. Apple Daily’s reporters were again often able to cover some exclusive court news although most newspapers’ reporters could cover the major court stories. Apple Daily was obviously willing to put more resources to search all the court stories and develop extensive contacts with lawyers.
I had only worked in the media for about 5 years before I changed to work in the human rights field. I had never stopped reading Apple Daily, which was particularly popular among the middle-class and white-collar professionals, since then. On 1 July 2003 (the six anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to Communist China), half a million Hong Kongers took to street to protest against the Hong Kong government’s controversial bill on sedition and secession in relation to the Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which was dubbed as Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. I was still a reporter at that time. All the protesters, from all walks of life, including some civil servants whom I knew, held banners, placards and the Apple Daily (which reported about the controversy extensively, especially on the comments against the bill) in the rally. Apple Daily suddenly changed from a gossip newspaper to become the largest and most influential pro-democracy media in the city.
Over the years thereafter, Apple Daily became part of Hong Kongers’ collective history. Apple Daily became a very significant connection among Hong Kongers in the annual 1 July march, pro-democracy election campaigns, the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the Anti-Extradition Bill movement in 2019. Without Apple Daily, Hong Kong would have not been the same. Nobody would have ever expected that Apple Daily would be disappeared one day. Eventually, Apple Daily was forced to shut down two years ago and the company’s founder and executives were arrested and charged with national security offences and the company’s assets confiscated by the Hong Kong government. Twenty-six years after Hong Kong’s handover, we not only lost Apple Daily but all the freedoms we used to enjoy, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. While some media workers in Hong Kong continue their efforts on the thin ice, such as Hong Kong Free Press (which I also wrote a few articles and gave my take on various human rights issues in the past), we can’t help but have to accept the fact that press freedom is dwindling in the city.