HK's Apple Daily ends its print run today, after 26 years

Move comes following police raids, arrests of key staff as well as freezing of tabloid's assets

People outside the headquarters of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital in Hong Kong yesterday.
People outside the headquarters of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital in Hong Kong yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Jimmy Lai (above).
Jimmy Lai (above).

Popular tabloid Apple Daily, founded and owned by tycoon Jimmy Lai, will run its final edition today after serving readers for 26 years. The digital version ceased updates at 11.59pm yesterday.

The final development for the Hong Kong newspaper came hours after the board of its publisher, Next Digital, said the last edition would be printed "no later than Saturday", with the digital version no longer accessible by 11.59pm on the same day.

The decision follows what the board described as "the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong".

Confirmation of the closure of all operations of the paper - with 600 employees - triggered an outpouring of tributes on social media, with Twitter users describing it as "the end of an era" and expressing sadness over the tabloid's outcome.

Earlier in the day, police said they arrested a 55-year-old columnist at Apple Daily in a national security probe.

According to the embattled tabloid, the man, whose real name is Yang Qing Qi, is a key person on the China desk and writes under the name of Li Ping.

Local media said the writer was nabbed at the tabloid's office in Tseung Kwan O on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers.

The police said investigations are under way and more people could be arrested.

According to local media, a reporter was also arrested.

When asked, Professor Keith Richburg of the University of Hong Kong's journalism school said Apple Daily had "played a unique role in Hong Kong's politics and society" in the past 26 years.

"Apple Daily was controversial, it was brash, it was funny, it was irreverent and it often went way too far, over the top in its sensationalism.

"But many people in Hong Kong loved it... Apple Daily had become a part of the fabric of Hong Kong society," he said.

Prof Richburg pointed out that many people went out and bought copies to show their support when the paper was raided and its staff arrested.

He said Apple Daily and the pro-democracy movement had become inextricably intertwined.

But the jury is still out on whether the city's government and police are singling out Apple Daily, or targeting the media more broadly in a bid to stifle critical local coverage.

"We have to wait and see whether other media critical of the government are targeted, and also what evidence the authorities produce in court to prove their case that Apple Daily was involved in more than just routine journalism, which includes publishing editorials and opinions on controversial issues," said Prof Richburg.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday responded to criticism of the government's actions against the pro-democracy publication, calling it an attempt to "beautify" acts endangering national security.

She stressed that accusations by the United States that the national security law is being used as a tool to stifle freedom of expression and suppress the media "are wrong".

"What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists. It is violating the law as defined in the national security law and based on very clear evidence, which will bring the case to court."

Apple Daily ended some of its offerings on Tuesday, including Next Magazine, English services and finance news.

It also aired its last live news show on Monday night.

Employees had been told on Monday that the newspaper did not have sufficient funds to continue operations after the Hong Kong authorities froze its assets of HK$18 million (S$3.1 million) as part of a national security probe.

Last Friday, Apple Daily's editor-in-chief Ryan Law and chief executive of Next Digital Cheung Kim Hung were charged with conspiring to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security. They are in remand and now face the prospect of life imprisonment.

The two men were among five executives of Apple Daily and Next Digital arrested the day before. The other three - chief operating officer Chow Tat Kuen, deputy chief editor Chan Pui Man and chief executive editor Cheung Chi Wai - are out on bail but have not been charged.

The arrests were made the same morning that 500 officers raided Apple Daily's Tseung Kwan O office, prompting the city's journalism bodies to decry the move as a heavy blow to press freedom.

The paper's founder Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing and the Hong Kong government, is serving time for joining illegal assemblies in 2019. He is also accused of breaching national security and faces trial, as well as the prospect of life imprisonment.

  • Looking back on the good and bad

  • JUNE 20, 1995

    Apple Daily debuts in full colour, breaking from tradition and selling two million copies of its first edition. It soon becomes Hong Kong's second best-selling Chinese-language paper, after Oriental Daily. It gains many fans with its critical reporting on China and scoops on political scandals, celebrity gossip, as well as crime and entertainment news.

    NOVEMBER 1998

    The tabloid apologises following a public outcry over its report about a woman who jumped off a building after pushing her children out the window. It had published a photo of her husband with prostitutes soon after the deaths, but it is later revealed that the paper had paid the man to pose for the photo.

    MAY 2003

    Apple Daily is launched in Taiwan, where it sells an average of over 500,000 copies daily.

    JULY 2003

    It publishes an exclusive on former financial secretary Antony Leung, saying he avoided paying tax when buying a Lexus. He resigns soon after.

    JULY 2013

    Then Secretary for Development Paul Chan, now the Financial Secretary, becomes embroiled in controversy after an Apple Daily report that he or his family had an interest in a plot of land in the New Territories that the government had plans to develop.

    JUNE 2018

    It breaks the story about the government knowing for years about previously undisclosed construction problems with the MTR's scandal-plagued Sha Tin-Central Link.

    MAY 2021

    Hong Kong authorities freeze the assets of the paper's founder Jimmy Lai, the first time a listed firm is targeted by national security laws in the city.

    JUNE 2021

    Police arrest five executives of Apple Daily. The authorities also freeze HK$18 million (S$3.1 million) of Apple Daily's assets.

    JUNE 20

    The paper marks its 26th anniversary.

    JUNE 23

    Paper's management says it would print its last edition today.

    Claire Huang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2021, with the headline 'HK's Apple Daily ends its print run today, after 26 years'. Subscribe