Media maverick Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has made another key change to his empire, promoting Chan Pui-man to chief editor of Apple Daily.
Chan, a veteran journalist, is the first woman to head the newspaper and one of very few to have reached that position in Hong Kong’s mainstream media (the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s Alice Kwok Yim-ming is another).
The appointment is well-timed — it came the day after International Women’s Day — and well thought out — it was an internal promotion that will ensure editorial continuity for the newspaper’s 20th anniversary in June.
At 45, Chan is seen as an ideal candidate (not too old, nor too young) to lead the iconic, impactful and often interesting daily.
Her predecessor, Ip Yut-kin, now promoted to publisher, wrote in his column that he would appoint “a young beauty who will be nine times more critical” than himself as chief editor and said: “Hong Kong monsters, you really need to watch out!”
Little is known about Chan, other than that she is a low-key and no-nonsense journalist with a heart for democracy and Hong Kong.
She is far from being the first woman to edit a newspaper (a veteran recalls that Sung Suk-wai was the first female editor of Sing Tao Daily when Sally Aw Sian was owner) or the youngest (I can recall a younger female editor in my day).
Of course she is not the mother of Joshua Wong Chi-fung. At the height of the Occupy movement last year, it was rumored that the mother of the student leader who made the cover of Time magazine was a deputy editor at Apple Daily – what a joke!
Despite being of the same generation as a journalist, I met Chan only on two occasions – and both times she was quiet. Before what would have been the third occasion, I found out she has spicy tastes in food — which I don’t, so I did not join in the dinner.
So who is she? There is no better way to know a person than to read what she has written.
In a recent article, she asked why mainlanders were so sensitive about a former TVB artist saying “you China people” when they often use the phrase “you Hong Kong people” in discussing “one country, two systems”.
“To understand why Hong Kong’s system is better than the one in China is easy,” Chan wrote. “We do not need to go deeply into the rule of law, human rights and freedom.
“Just ask why these parallel goods traders are rushing to buy milk powder, cookies and chocolates (specifically Ferrero Rocher). That is because they do not believe the mainland system can control the sale of poisonous milk powder and fake New Year goods.”
In another piece, she questioned why Chief Executive CY Leung went the extra mile to promote innovation and technology (along with Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma Yun, who donated money for young entrepreneurs) while at the same time engaging in Cultural Revolution-style interference with academic freedom.
“In this environment, can Hong Kong still attract talent?” Chan asked. “Does our society deserve to say ‘innovation’?”
In yet another article, Chan said she, like many other local residents, came to a new realization of the world, the country, democracy and justice after June 4, 1989, the annual commemoration of which puts Hong Kong at the centre of the world.
“When Tiananmen mothers are still being monitored, and when CY Leung changes from once condemning [the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square] to declining to comment, when June 4 becomes a sensitive search word and when Hong Kong has not achieved democracy, we know this is not over,” she wrote.
Chan’s appointment follows a series of changes within Next Media, which publishes Apple Daily, Next Magazine and other gossip titles.
After he was arrested during the Occupy movement, Lai resigned as founding chairman and publisher and appointed the dean of the school of journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago as an independent non-executive director of the firm.
A former Apple Daily executive told me: “Being chief editor is always a tough job at Apple Daily. The issue is: how much real power will be given to the editor?”
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