Hong Kong’s Apple Daily is known for its fiercely pro-democracy stance, tabloid-style reporting and controversial story angles.
In a move to enhance its news coverage and mass appeal, the newspaper launched in January a campaign to encourage the public to send in interesting news pictures and videos with cash rewards.
Those who send the top three photos or videos will receive HK$5,000, HK$3,000 and HK$2,000 in cash respectively.
As to be expected, the campaign has drawn massive response from the public.
A video about a Putonghua-speaking family thrown out of a Cathay Pacific flight after their three-year-old son refused to wear a seatbelt, attracted the most eyeballs last month, with an accumulated hit rate of 1.22 million times.
Other popular submissions included “Miserly former chief executive Donald Tsang took a cruise trip” and “Mainlander pays HK$1,000 for a HK$10.6 bus ride”.
To ratchet up the excitement, Apple Daily announced last week the story that will attract the highest hit rate in the period between March 15 and April 14 will win a cash prize of HK$1 million.
The announcement did make some ripples, but it also raised worries that the move could backfire.
Next Media Trade Union, representing the workers at Apple Daily’s parent company Next Media, issued a statement calling for the immediate termination of the million dollar reward campaign.
Although the newspaper has a long history of giving out cash rewards in exchange for news, raising the prize to such an outrageously high level may affect the industry in an unwanted way, the trade union said.
The huge cash reward can, of course, ignite public enthusiasm about citizen reporting. However, it can also induce some people to create or make up news stories, probably even resort to illegal means, to win the prize.
Apple Daily’s good intentions, such as encouraging the reporting of more news stories, may have unintended consequences. For one, the chance that people will submit fake news stories will rise.
The trade union questioned the need to boost the reward to such a high level when the existing campaign has already achieved very good results, with many readers sending in news photos and videos.
The HK$1 million prize money also seems inappropriate when Apple Daily has been cutting expenses and manpower in the past few years.
The trade union is concerned something like the Chan Kin-hong scandal in 1998 could happen again.
The case sparked an intense debate about media ethics after Apple Daily showed Chan posing with two mainland prostitutes in bed while the funeral of his wife and children was taking place in Hong Kong.
Apple Daily later admitted that the reporter had paid Chan HK$5,000 for letting the newspaper take the sensational pictures and publish them.
The newspaper had to devote the entire front page to post its apology for the report and it took its reporters lots of efforts to rebuild the paper’s credibility.
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