Some people cried in grief at the demise of Apple Daily, believing it was the final nail in the coffin for press freedom, while pro-Beijing critics cheered.
The opposing reactions to the closure of the activist-backed newspaper mirror the polarized political environment in Hong Kong almost 24 years after the handover.
The newspaper, best known for its controversial editorial stance and daring reporting style, was seen as a symbol of truth by pro-democracy supporters, especially amid the torn social atmosphere after the massive anti-fugitive unrest in 2019 and the enactment of the national security law on June 30 last year.
They mourned the loss of a major pillar upholding the “fourth estate” to monitor public services and safeguard the public’s rights to know.
To them, the end of Apple Daily translates to the end of press freedom as many believe the downfall of the media outlet will trigger even more self-censorship among other industry workers.
On the other side, pro-Beijing politicians and individuals were delighted to see what they described as “the ugly death of a traitor.”
The chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Ronson Chan Long-sing, said he was heartbroken over the closure of Apple Daily, “especially when it’s still loved and supported by readers.”
Veteran media worker Siring Li Wei-ling, who had worked at Apple Daily, said its end symbolizes the end of press freedom in Hong Kong and the public “will never learn about many things in the future.”
Political commentator Ivan Choy Chi-keung, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Apple Daily can hardly be replaced as it is the most outspoken media.
“It reports the perspectives from the pro-democracy camp, including localists, serving as a channel for people to understand their objectives and principles behind their social actions,” Choy said.
“Media outlets will only be more conservative in the future as Apple Daily has also been carrying other centrist media and they will now be under a lot more pressure and will be far less outspoken,” he added.
Choy said Apple Daily was a “campaign media” which was more influential than just reporting current affairs.
He said one obvious example could be dated back to the July 1 rally in 2003.
“Apple Daily called on people to take to the streets and join the march, with continuous reports for two to three weeks prior to the march,” Choy said.
Eventually 500,000 citizens took to the streets that day against legislating the Basic Law’s Article 23, prompting authorities to withdraw the bill.
Outside Apple Daily’s Tseung Kwan O headquarters yesterday, supporters placed yellow flowers and yellow ribbons on its gate. Both symbolized pro-democratic powers in the SAR.
Also there were members of an anti-Apple Daily group holding a banner cheering the end of “fake news.” They celebrated with bottles of champagne and apple juice.
Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying wrote on his Facebook that the paper’s death is “well-deserved as a scum committing collusion with foreign forces.”
Leung said Apple Daily and Next Magazine – both founded by Jimmy Lai – are not media outlets, but Lai’s tools for political expression.
“That’s why what has happened to him, his family and assistant (Mark Simon) in recent years is not related to journalistic work, and not related to press freedom,” he wrote.
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, wrote: “This day has finally come!” as she reposted a report about Apple Daily’s closure.