A Hong Kong newspaper backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Friday denounced the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper for “working for foreign powers” and “slandering the police force,” suggesting official measures may be in the works to shut the paper down.
“Some media organizations continue to use their so-called fourth estate status to engage in collusion with foreign forces and incitement,” the China-backed Ta Kung Pao said in an opinion piece.
“Of these, the Apple Daily is the worst and most egregious offender,” it said.
The article was published a day after hints from Hong Kong officials that the national security law, which bans public criticism of the city’s government and the CCP, would soon be having more of an impact on the media.
“There remain some national security loopholes in the media sector,” the Ta Kung Pao article said, accusing the paper of “promoting independence for Hong Kong in the guise of news reporting.”
It said the paper had become a platform for “violent protesters” during the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement, and accused it of “fueling the riots.”
“Scores must be settled with media organizations like the Apple Daily … which is an anti-China and anti-Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) newspaper,” the article said, calling for a ban on the paper, along with other pro-democracy media organizations.
“What is strange is how it has managed to stay in existence for this long,” it said.
The article came a day after comments by Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang, in which he alluded to certain media organizations as “working for foreign powers and slandering the police force.”
“Many foreign powers are using their agents in Hong Kong to spread fake news in order to cause social conflict and division, to incite hatred,” Tang told the Legislative Council (LegCo).
“We will definitely arrest, investigate and prosecute anyone who tries to endanger Hong Kong’s security through fake news,” Tang said.
An Apple Daily journalist who gave only the nickname C said it was business as usual at the paper on Friday — for now.
“Maybe one day what we write will be a record of the injustices that took place,” C said. “Maybe our stories will be brought as evidence to rehabilitate someone, or to redress the actions of an unjust system.”
“I think a lot of people, both journalists and the public, get this.”
C said nobody expects what the Apple Daily is currently printing to make any kind of dent in the current city-wide crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition under the national security law, however.
“We are writing stuff for the historical record, in case it’s useful in the future,” he said.
A manager at the paper said its journalists have been at risk of official retaliation for some time now, and that the end “is definitely coming; it’s inevitable.”
“I’m just taking it one step at a time, and I hope I can hang in there until the end,” he said.
Fu King-wah, associate professor at the Journalism and Media Research Center of the University of Hong Kong, said the Apple Daily is highly likely to be the next target of the national security crackdown.
“I don’t know what means they will use, but one possibility is that the government has proposed new legislation on fake news,” Fu said.
“The current context means the government has a lot of power to decide what is fake news, and will have the power to ban the publication of stories it decides are fake news, as well as maybe taking action against newspapers,” he said.
Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.