How two fugitive opium sellers began a Hong Kong newspaper struggle

As Jimmy Lai’s pro-democracy paper ate into the Oriental Daily News’ readership, a deep, private vendetta took root between the latter publication’s founders, by then fugitives in Taiwan, and the newcomer.

After many years of dispute, the 2 rivals this summer season lastly had their day in courtroom, as Lai confronted a cost of intimidating an Oriental Daily News reporter.

In footage proven to the courtroom, Lai factors his finger on the reporter, swears at him in Cantonese, and says: “I’ll undoubtedly discover somebody to mess with you.” The reporter, whose identification is protected by an anonymity order, mentioned Lai was threatening him bodily, and that he suffered psychologically from the episode. Prosecutors mentioned Lai was at a public occasion the place reporters had the best to {photograph} him.

Lai pleaded not responsible to the cost of legal intimidation, which carries a most sentence of two years, and on Thursday was acquitted. “I’m not apprehensive in any respect, as a result of it is a minor case and the cost felt pressured,” he mentioned, earlier than the trial started.

In current years, Lai has made greater enemies than the Oriental Daily News, as he vigorously opposes Beijing’s affect on Hong Kong. The septuagenarian is going through a slew of legal expenses, together with a number of below Hong Kong’s sweeping new nationwide safety regulation, which carries a most sentence of life imprisonment.

Any jail sentence threatens Lai’s skill to run Apple Daily at a time when it’s below unparalleled stress: on August 10, the newsroom was stormed by 200 police officers, as Lai was arrested below town’s nationwide safety regulation on suspicion of colluding with international forces to hazard nationwide safety, conspiracy to defraud and intention to incite succession, circumstances which have but to come back to trial.

“It could be troublesome for Apply Daily to outlive if Lai was jailed,” mentioned Willy Lam, a professor in historical past on the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a former journalist, including that survival methods had been seemingly being put in place on the newspaper for that state of affairs.

“Lai isn’t the editor, however he’s the particular person offering the cash for the paper and the image of defiance. He is a logo of freedom of the media, in each Hong Kong and the Western world.”

An opium fugitive

In 1977, the Hong Kong Police issued arrest warrants for 2 brothers they alleged had smuggled 700 tonnes of heroin into Hong Kong between 1968 and 1974 from Asia’s Golden Triangle.

But earlier than officers had the chance to arrest Ma Sik-yu, extensively generally known as White Powder Ma, he escaped to the neighboring island of Taiwan, which has no extradition treaty with Hong Kong. His youthful brother Ma Sik-chun wasn’t so quick: he was arrested however managed to slide out of town the following yr by boat whereas on bail.

The pair lived the remainder of their lives as fugitives in self-governing Taiwan, managing their media empire from afar.

Major drug
trafficker Ma Sik-chun was arrested
by the police in
1970s.Major drug
trafficker Ma Sik-chun was arrested
by the police in
1970s.
Ma Sik-chun is escorted to court to face charges of drug trafficking. Ma was the publisher and Chairman of the Oriental Daily News.  Ma Sik-chun is escorted to court to face charges of drug trafficking. Ma was the publisher and Chairman of the Oriental Daily News.
In January 1969, the Mas founded the Oriental Daily News. In their absence, the paper was run by Ma Ching-kwan, the youthful brother’s son. Under his steering, the newspaper turned an necessary software to foyer for the fugitives’ return.

“After that, the whole mission of that newspaper group was one factor: get them (the brothers) again to Hong Kong,” says Mark Simon, a senior government of Next Digital, which publishes the Apple Daily — his view was echoed by others who spoke to CNN on the situation of anonymity.

In 1994, the English-language Eastern Express newspaper was based by the Oriental Press Group, which publishes the Oriental Daily News, to attach with Hong Kong’s English-speaking elites who dominated the then-British colony, and finally determined the fugitives’ destiny. It additionally added a extra august title to the household secure, lending them extra respectability, however the publication rapidly folded as a consequence of poor promoting income and readership.
In 1996, a lawyer asked the federal government what would occur had been Ma to return to Hong Kong. Drug-trafficking expenses in Hong Kong, nevertheless, don’t expire.
Ma Ching-kwan of the Oriental Press Group in 1995.  Ma Ching-kwan of the Oriental Press Group in 1995.
In 1998, the yr after Hong Kong transitioned from British to mainland Chinese rule, the Oriental Daily News revealed Ma Ching-kwan had donated $1.7 million to Britain’s then ruling Conservative Party in 1994 for “sure commitments,” which it mentioned had not been fulfilled. The governor of Hong Kong from 1992 till 1997 was a Conservative Party politician.

Publishing {a photograph} of Ma Ching-kwan with British Prime Minister John Major, and a menu from a dinner at 10 Downing Street he had attended on September 27, 1994 — three months after the donation had been made — the newspaper demanded a refund.

”We will categorically say that the Conservative Party didn’t or wouldn’t settle for donations conditional on favors,” an unnamed spokesman for the Conservative Party was quoted as saying in 1998 in British newspaper, The Independent.

After White Powder Ma died in 1998, his youthful brother was alone in Taiwan. Some, nevertheless, doubted Ma Ching-kwan ever actually needed his father again on dwelling soil.

“If his father got here again, he would not be the king of the paper,” mentioned a long-time observer of the Oriental Daily News, who requested anonymity. “As it was, he needed to ship the entrance pages of the paper each day to Taiwan for approval earlier than they hit the presses.”

In 2015, Ma Sik-chun died aged 77 in Taipei. He was nonetheless a needed man in Hong Kong.

An apple a day

At across the identical time the Ma brothers got here to Hong Kong, one other man destined to be a newspaper baron surreptitiously crossed over the border from mainland China looking for a safer life.

After making his first pot of gold with the fast-fashion clothes big Giordano, within the mid-1990s Jimmy Lai based Next Digital, by means of which he started publishing the scandalizing, pro-democracy and anti-Beijing tabloid Apple Daily. His purpose was to be a essential voice of Beijing in a media panorama more and more cautious of offending the mainland after the top of British rule.
Jimmy Lai in December 1995.Jimmy Lai in December 1995.
Apple Daily launched with a 100 million Hong Kong dollar ($12.9 million) promotional marketing campaign and sparked a citywide worth struggle on newstands, with Lai nearly making a gift of the title at two Hong Kong {dollars} (25 cents), the value distributors charged to promote it.
Before 1995, the Oriental Daily News was thought-about the clear market chief, though actual readership figures are onerous to confirm as a consequence of an absence of unbiased audits. Court paperwork from 1998 say the newspaper had a 53% share of the “vibrant newspaper market.”

“Jimmy busted open their distribution community,” says Simon, who’s Lai’s long-time, right-hand man, explaining that Apple Daily negotiated its method onto newsstands that had been usually reluctant to promote opponents of the Oriental Daily News.

Apple Daily started to dent the Oriental Daily News’ readership. “Jimmy did not notice that this is able to show to be such an unlimited affront to this paranoid bunch of people that had been busy, on the one hand, attempting to clear up their identify, and however, be sure that they had been nonetheless essentially the most dominant publication out there,” mentioned a long-time observer of the Oriental Daily News.

A Giordano branch in Macau was set alight. The chain is part-owned by Jimmy Lai. Two hours later, about 1,000 copies of his Apple Daily newspaper were tossed into the water by a gang.A Giordano branch in Macau was set alight. The chain is part-owned by Jimmy Lai. Two hours later, about 1,000 copies of his Apple Daily newspaper were tossed into the water by a gang.
As the media panorama migrated in direction of digital within the 21st century, Apple Daily was an early adopter, pioneering a massively profitable video animation information format, and launching a web site distinct from its newspaper, whereas the Oriental Daily News continued to upload PDFs of its print product to the online. The latter newspaper’s political place was not as well-defined as Apple Daily’s, with different publications within the metropolis occupying a extra strident, and constant, pro-Beijing stand.

And as Lai’s feud with the Oriental Daily News intensified, Apple Daily fanned the flames, operating tales that saved stress on the Hong Kong authorities to not let the surviving Ma brother return from Taiwan.

Harassment

During Lai’s courtroom hearings final month, it emerged that since not less than 2013, Oriental Daily News has paid a workforce of reporters to observe Lai. The reporter whom the Apple Daily founder clashed with in June 2017 admitted in courtroom to recurrently trailing Lai leaving his home and work, taking pictures and video of these he interacted with, whereas at all times preserving a good distance and by no means upsetting him, he claimed.

“Why would you could have a complete workforce of individuals being paid salaries for years on it and to observe round any person you do not like?” mentioned the shut observer of the Oriental Daily News empire. “It will need to have price them an absolute fortune.”

“Why would you could have a complete workforce of individuals being paid salaries for years on it and to observe round any person you do not like?”Close observer of the Oriental Daily News empire

But it wasn’t the primary time the Oriental Daily News had assigned reporters to tail folks it did not like.

In 1996, the Oriental Daily News sued Next Media for publishing on its entrance web page an image it had taken of pop star Faye Wong choosing up her baggage at Beijing Airport whereas pregnant, with out her consent. Oriental Daily News received a small sum for the copyright violation, however was made to pay for its enchantment by a choose, who individually dominated towards the paper in a case through which it was charged with publishing a collection of indecent pictures of bare ladies.

After the rulings, a workforce of Oriental Daily News reporters started to follow the judge across the clock, and an article within the newspaper warned him not “to take any false steps.” Photographs and articles within the Oriental Daily News detailed the choose’s actions to and from courtroom, and made a collection of racial slurs towards him.

In its Kung Fu Tea column, the newspaper wrote: “Oriental doesn’t care in case you are yellow-skinned or white or a pig or a canine. In our self-defence, we’re decided to wipe you all out! Here, Kung Fu Tea warns the pigs and canines: do not you hassle me once more. Otherwise, once I counterattack in self-defence, you’ll remorse it exceedingly, you’ll remorse it! I repeat: you’ll remorse it very a lot!”

“Oriental doesn’t care in case you are yellow-skinned or white or a pig or a canine. In our self-defence, we’re decided to wipe you all out!”Oriental Daily News column

Multiple folks CNN approached for interviews for this text declined to talk on the report out of concern for his or her private security.

CNN reached out to the Oriental Daily News for touch upon why it had a workforce monitoring Lai for years, and the issues of interviewees of this text, however didn’t get a response.

Criminal intimidation

For two years, Hong Kong authorities didn’t pursue the case towards Lai, regardless of common articles showing within the Oriental Daily News urging the Secretary of Justice to prosecute him. The newspaper mentioned it despatched 17 letters to the Department of Justice in regards to the case.

Then in February this yr, Lai was charged with legal intimidation on the advice of Justice Teresa Cheng, who has been sanctioned in August by the United States for undermining Hong Kong’s freedoms. Arthur Lee, barrister {and professional} marketing consultant on the Chinese University of Hong Kong, mentioned usually when there’s a lengthy delay in expenses being filed it may be as a consequence of a necessity to search out extra proof, or distinction in opinion as as to if to prosecute.

“I think about it considerably farcical that this even got here to trial. They harassed a man to attempt to get a response and so they acquired a response.”Mark Simon, Next Digital government

In a press release offered to CNN in response to a query on the preliminary delay in prosecuting the case, a spokesman for the Department of Justice mentioned that it was “not acceptable for the Department of Justice to touch upon the matter.”

“I think about it considerably farcical that this even got here to trial,” mentioned Simon. “They harassed a man to attempt to get a response and so they acquired a response — however they did not get a man attempting to criminally intimidate anyone.”

In the choose’s verdict on Thursday, she mentioned she couldn’t “imagine the reporter is an trustworthy and dependable witness” and was not satisfied he was “genuinely scared.” The courtroom heard the reporter was seen smiling after the alternate with Lai.

Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper -- paid for by a collection of pro-democracy district councillors -- sit on a cart before being handed out in Hong Kong on August 11, 2020, a day after authorities conducted a search of the newspaper's headquarters.Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper -- paid for by a collection of pro-democracy district councillors -- sit on a cart before being handed out in Hong Kong on August 11, 2020, a day after authorities conducted a search of the newspaper's headquarters.

There are nonetheless extra alternatives for Lai to go to jail this yr. In February and April, Lai was charged with illegal meeting for becoming a member of protests that had been banned by the federal government in August and October final yr. Each cost carries a most sentence of 5 years in jail. And Lai stays essentially the most high-profile determine to be arrested below the nationwide safety regulation.

So far, the publicity round Lai’s arrests has given the Apple Daily a lift. Supporters final month rallied to purchase Next Media inventory, take out adverts within the paper and snap it up on information stands, inflicting it to promote out throughout town and promote greater than half 1,000,000 copies in someday. Simon says digital subscriptions for Apple Daily, which launched an English-language model this yr, are up by about 15% to 720,000, for the reason that regulation got here in.

That help is welcomed. Next Media reported a lack of 415 million Hong Kong dollars ($54 million) for the 12 months to March — a close to 20% enhance in year-on-year losses.
On its web site, the Oriental Daily News says it had 3,486,550 readers in 2017, the newest figures it has printed, which aren’t independently verified however would put it far forward of Apple Daily’s readership. Clement So, from Chinese University of Hong Kong, nevertheless, not too long ago printed analysis performed final summer season into native media readership in 2019, which gave Apple Daily a 21% share of the print market and 25.7% of the web area, in comparison with 20.9% and 11.1% for Oriental Daily News, respectively.
Jimmy Lai is escorted through the Apple Daily newsroom after being arrested under Hong Kong's national security law in August 2020.Jimmy Lai is escorted through the Apple Daily newsroom after being arrested under Hong Kong's national security law in August 2020.

But if Lai was to be jailed, for any of the offenses he at the moment faces, the Oriental Daily News might discover itself with a transparent lead on the newsstands. Lam, the historical past professor and former journalist, says that within the present local weather of rising media self-censorship, there may be rising fear that the Hong Kong and mainland governments will make life “tougher for the newspaper — and even shut it down.”

“Apple Daily is likely one of the only a few media retailers which is there to criticize the Hong Kong and Beijing governments,” Lam mentioned. Losing it might “be a loss for the Hong Kong group and a defeat for freedom of the media.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has mentioned that the nationwide safety regulation will not have an effect on freedom of speech.
After his earlier arrest below the nationwide safety regulation, Lai appeared in an Apple Daily livestream with an emotional message: “I’ve lived in Hong Kong for greater than 60 years, however I’ve by no means felt so touched and completely satisfied earlier than,” he mentioned.

“I do not really feel depressing about being handcuffed, neither do I really feel humiliated, by no means … I’m doing all these as a result of this place has handled me too effectively and that is what I ought to.”

The battle on the newspaper stands lives to see one other day.

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