Columbia Journalism School Alumni Speak About the Closure of Hong Kong's Apple Daily | Columbia Journalism School
building with apple daily logo
Apple Daily Hong Kong Headquarters / Credit: Prosperity Horizons

Columbia Journalism School Alumni Speak About the Closure of Hong Kong's Apple Daily

Last Wednesday, Apply Daily, the muckraking Hong Kong newspaper, was forced to shut down after the government froze its assets and jailed its top executives. Many see this as the end of press freedom in Hong Kong. In a piece for The Financial Times, Professor Sheila Coronel discussed the implications of the closure on Asian journalism. While writing the piece, she asked Columbia Journalism School alumni who live or once lived in Hong Kong how they felt about Apple Daily and the suppression of free speech in the city. They asked not to be named so that they could speak freely. Here is what they said:

 

 

Back in 2010, when I was an intern at CNN International in Hong Kong, one of my duties involved waking up at 6 a.m. to read and translate headlines from Apple Daily to share with editors and producers as part of a morning memo. The swashbuckling, sometimes irreverent, pro-democracy tabloid was a key source of news and entertainment for Hong Kongers. International journalists and foreign correspondents also paid attention to the paper for its feisty coverage of Hong Kong.

In recent years, even before the implementation of the National Security Law, many papers in Hong Kong had already begun to self-censor, fearing an invisible "line" from China or perhaps worrying that Chinese advertisers with strong ties to the Mainland government might pull the plug. Apple Daily became one of the few outlets without a pro-Beijing slant that continued to hold Hong Kong and Chinese politicians to account. The paper's closure marks a sad milestone for press freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong, both of which have been rapidly eroding.

There were so many things I took for granted growing up in Hong Kong in the 1990s and 2000s returning to work as a journalist in the early 2010s. Every year, without fail, there was a vigil at Victoria Park on June 4 to mark the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Hong Kong was the only place on Chinese soil where people could gather to remember the massacre and hundreds (possibly thousands) of students shot dead by the authorities. People would light candles, read poetry and sing songs to remember those who were murdered for advocating for democracy. That gathering has now been banned for two years in a row.

 

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When I grew up, Hong Kong was a beacon of freedom. My primary school teachers taught me to be proud of our rights: the freedom of speech, freedom to protest, and freedom of the press. Hong Kongers were who lit candles to remember the Tiananmen Massacre because it has never been commemorated on the Mainland. That is how I remember Hong Kong. It's hard to accept that that city no longer exists. I'm still digesting the forced closure of Apple Daily. As a journalist, the first word that comes to mind is "nightmare."

 

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While I miss the days when local journalists weren't gripped by constant anxieties of facing police arrest or getting their offices and homes raided, it wasn't exactly a paradise. What used to be undercurrents have been brought to the fore — what news media used to quietly self-censor is now codified as law. It was a better, easier time, but I don't miss that past.

Two decades of online news archive by one of the city's biggest and most comprehensive news outlets vanished within an hour when Apple Daily shut down. The work of tens of thousands of reporters [was] erased from the internet, where it could most easily be accessed. It is 26 years' worth of record in Hong Kong's 180-year history. I grieve for such irreparable loss.

Apple Daily's stellar reporting led news agendas and drove conversations, but its unapologetic advocacy often also meant bias and the lack of balance and fairness. That said, the newspaper's closure means losing that very possibility to express different voices free of fear, and that's frightening.

 

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Apple Daily and I were born of the same time — one when it felt important to define what made us Hong Kongers. Growing up in the early post-colonial era, I was taught in school that free speech was a major civil rights pillar that set us apart from China — and Apple Daily, in all its might and chaos, was, to me, living proof that the rights to dissent and resistance were a part of us. Saying goodbye to Apple Daily today feels like saying goodbye to that part of our official identity. And yet, after seeing the overwhelming support Apple Daily has received in the past few days, I can’t help but feel cautiously optimistic that its spirit will still live among us. I will miss the way intrepid reporting has emboldened Hong Kongers and fueled the fire within us, but am cautiously hoping that journalists, creatives and others alike will find smart and creative ways to continue writing our own stories.

 

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