In a paper revealed in 2013 simply after Xi Jinping took energy, Hong Kong media tycoon Yu Pun-hoi wrote optimistically about how the brand new Chinese president wanted to take an “unambiguous stand against dictatorship” and guarantee “free speech”.
Eight years later, issues couldn’t have panned out extra in a different way, particularly for Hong Kong’s as soon as vibrant media. Yu’s primary rival, pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, is behind bars and his common Apple Daily tabloid newspaper has been shuttered. Both had been high-profile targets of Xi’s crackdown on civil freedoms after anti-government protests shook Hong Kong in 2019.
Yu, 63, a profitable entrepreneur expert at strolling the road between being a pro-Beijing loyalist and sometimes criticising the native Hong Kong authorities, has instantly discovered himself uncomfortably near the firing line. With the removing of Apple Daily, his irreverent web site HK01, with its heady mixture of crime and leisure, is now the town’s hottest information portal.
“The style he presents as a media owner is not like Jimmy Lai,” stated Grace Leung, a journalism lecturer on the Chinese college of Hong Kong. “He is more like the traditional Chinese [elite businessman] . . . HK01 has tried to position itself as pro-China but at least appear to be a bit more neutral.”
Hong Kong’s aggressive media was historically seen as a part of its attraction as an international financial centre, in a position to maintain the federal government to account in a approach that was unimaginable in mainland China.
But because the protests and the introduction of a nationwide safety regulation final 12 months, the federal government has clamped down on the press. Apart from arresting Lai, it has focused public broadcaster RTHK, outstanding journalists have fled the city, citing “white terror”, though the federal government argues press freedoms have been preserved. White terror refers back to the many years of authoritarian rule in Taiwan when a whole bunch of dissidents had been jailed. Hong Kong protesters have used the time period to characterise their worry of retribution after the 2019 protests.
From its founding in 2016, HK01 has attracted readers by mixing salacious celeb gossip and criticism of the native Hong Kong authorities with assist for Beijing’s rule, reflecting the leanings of the coterie of independent-minded however in the end pro-China businesspeople who’ve lengthy dominated the town.
But within the wake of the safety regulation, Beijing is listening much less to the town’s conventional elites, partly blaming them for the protests. In this new Hong Kong, analysts marvel if HK01 can proceed with its “loyalist criticism”, or if the trace of dissent that helped drive readership can be stamped out.
Yu burst on to the Hong Kong media scene within the early Nineties at age 33, taking up Chinese language newspaper Mingpao after a failed bid from Rupert Murdoch. He bought the paper after a scandal through which the Hong Kong media revealed he had been jailed for just a few months in his youth when finding out in Canada.
He developed property, cinema and IT companies in mainland China earlier than launching HK01’s web site in 2016. The outlet, which unleashed a few of Hong Kong’s finest journalists on delicate subjects and on the town’s strongest individuals, developed a repute for scoops.
“We knew that our boss had his personal opinions but he seldom interrupted our coverage,” one worker advised the Financial Times, describing this era as HK01’s “golden time”.
Yu’s curiosity within the media additionally arose from a need to affect public coverage, analysts stated. He is the chair of educational institutes at China’s Tsinghua and Peking universities and purchased Duowei in 2009, one of many largest political information web sites concentrating on the Chinese diaspora.
“Yu does not totally listen to the central government . . . He is a businessman with his own ideas on politics, he’s not totally red,” one other former editorial staffer stated.
Yu first revealed his twin method to Beijing whereas at Mingpao, when one in all his reporters was arrested in China in 1993. While his paper lobbied for the journalist’s launch, Yu apologised to Chinese authorities and stated he had cause to consider the journalist was responsible.
But the large test for Yu’s method got here in 2019 in the course of the anti-government protests. Yu, who’s now additionally chief editor of HK01, editorialised in opposition to violence by the pro-democracy camp, upsetting frontline reporters who complained that democrats had been refusing to be interviewed by them.
“The top management is very pro-establishment but some reporters and editors are very pro-democrat, so there is always a tension there,” stated Rose Luqiu, a former Chinese journalist now at Hong Kong Baptist University.
The introduction of the nationwide safety regulation has led to even tighter editorial management than the pressures that appeared in the course of the protests, two staff stated. “Sometimes our editors will ban our stories. Editors say it’s too sensitive . . . change the angle,” a present employees member stated.
“There is hardly any criticism of the central government,” one other added.
A HK01 senior editor rejected the criticism and stated the outlet “never hesitated to dive right into” delicate subjects or cowl politics earlier than or after the introduction of the safety regulation.
One particular person near the corporate stated it additionally didn’t need to be outlined by political information. The enterprise mannequin has advanced in recent times to incorporate ecommerce. “HK01 is not only a media outlet, but an internet company,” the editor stated.
But for Yu and HK01, strolling the tightrope of “loyal criticism” guarantees to solely get more durable. If its information turns into perceived as too pro-Beijing in a metropolis whose residents are inclined to lean away from the federal government, HK01 will lose readers.
“And then the advertisers will also abandon you,” Luqiu stated.
But turning into too pro-democrat will entice the opprobrium of nationalists. In current months, the web site has been focused by Stanley Ng, a pro-Beijing politician who depicted HK01 as belonging in the identical “rubbish bin” as Apple Daily.
Additional reporting by Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong