Hong Kong: Support for Next Digital employees as media group files for liquidation

Hong Kong media group, Next Digital, known for its popular pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and owned by jailed media magnate Jimmy Lai, filed for liquidation on September 5. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the use of Hong Kong’s national security law to silence press freedom and urges liquidators to distribute finances to the journalists and media staff left unemployed by Next Digital’s closure.

Signage for Next Digital and Apple Daily are seen displayed outside the offices of the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong on June 17, 2021. Credit: Anthony WALLACE / AFP

On September 5, Next Digital announced its liquidation, with its board of directors resigning to expedite the process. The media group stated they hoped the resignations would result in the Hong Kong government allowing liquidators to authorise payments directly to creditors and former staff that the directors were banned from approving under national security law restrictions. 

Before the closure, Next Digital had reported funds of more than HK $330 million (approx $42.5 million US), which were frozen as part of the national security investigation by Hong Kong police. As a result, banks were unable to process disbursements of staff salaries and mandated severance payments. 

“We have concluded that the best interest of shareholders, creditors, employees and other stakeholders will be served by an orderly liquidation,” said a statement issued by Next Digital. 

Over a thousand media workers were left jobless on June 23, following the closure of Apple Daily Newspaper and Next Magazine, subsidiaries of Next Digital. Many issues remain unresolved despite the Hong Kong government’s Labour Department establishing a dedicated unit to deal with inquiries from former Next Digital staff. A former Apple Daily reporter said, “since the company ceased operations, there has been no point of contact for staff in many departments. Everything is word of mouth, and there are no formal channels of communication.”

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has taken action to help former Next Digital employees, distributing cash vouchers valued at more than HK$100,000 (approx $13,000 US). The HKJA aims to acquire sufficient funds in the near future to provide for the needs of unemployed workers and their families. After the dissolution of the Next Digital staff trade union, all remaining funds were donated to the HKJA to assist in their aid of journalists and media workers. 

Next Digital owner Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison on April 16 for “unauthorised assemblies” during the pro-democracy protest movement in 2019. On May 14 this year, Hong Kong’s security bureau sad it had frozen all Next Digital shares held by Lai and all assets in the local bank accounts of his three companies.

The IFJ said: “The liquation of Next Digital is another blow against democratic institutions and freedom of the press in Hong Kong, with journalists and media workers left stranded. The IFJ calls on the Hong Kong government to ensure all former Next Digital employees receive fair severance packages and payment of all outstanding salaries.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram