21 October 2016
The first issue of HK01 print edition made a flashy debut on Friday. Photo: EJ Insight
The first issue of HK01 print edition made a flashy debut on Friday. Photo: EJ Insight

How much would you pay for a paper urging a HK$2 MTR fare?

Ever thought about why we are paying so much for a subway ride, or why we deserve transport subsidy as seen in first-tier cities in China?

Well, that’s the talking point of the first issue of media outfit HK01′s long-anticipated print edition which hit the streets on Friday.

The publication surely came out blasting, what with 196 full-color pages plus two magazines (one is called Local and the other Global) and glossy, full-page advertisements from Chanel, Cartier and China Construction Bank.

In an attempt to stir up discussion, the publication’s debut issue carries a provocative banner: “Buy back MTR Corp. (00066.HK), and let the whole city enjoy HK$2 fare.”

Prior to its publication, people had been expecting a local version of the Boston Globe, the US newspaper that famously broke the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church 15 years ago, a story that became the basis for this year’s Oscar best picture Spotlight.

But as it turns out, the new publication wants to go beyond investigative journalism and turn itself into an advocacy media — not just to dig up dirt but to help shape society into what it ought to be.

So in a six-page report, the paper tells its readers why and how MTR Corp. should offer the HK$2 fare – just like what the rail operator is doing for its senior passengers.

It does attempt to offer something beyond the ordinary journalistic fare, but it also reads like an analyst report on how MTR Corp. should privatize and still make lots of money.

Despite its supposed depth, the report ends up telling the readers a simple fact: the HK$2 fare is common in many mainland cities such as Guangzhou and Beijing.

That leaves us wondering how involved in editorial matters is its owner Yu Pun-hoi (于品海), who took over Ming Pao Enterprise from founder Louis Cha (查良鏞) in the 1990s before he was found not to have disclosed his criminal record in Canada in breach of listed company rules.

Yu, who is believed to be close to Citic Group, has since become a low-key figure, and has shifted his battlefield to China, where he bought a cinema chain, some properties in Southern China and recently the cosmetic franchise Crabtree & Evelyn.

Along with partner John Shum, a former multimedia man who emigrated to Canada after helping some student leaders leave China following the June Fourth Incident, Yu aspires to come back to build his media empire, in spite of the skepticism of many.

Yu has vowed to spend over HK$600 million in building a new integrated media, which includes an online operation, Douwei Weekly (which is famous for leaking sensitive news about the Chinese leadership) and, interestingly, a chain of restaurants to be launched later this year.

Just to prove how serious he is, Yu reportedly poached more than 30 reporters from Ming Pao, including Lung King-chueng, the editor of Mingpao Weekly, and Ernest Chi Pan-year, deputy editor of Ming Pao who led the investigative coverage.

Flipping through the many pages of the three-in-one debut issue, one realizes that MTR Corp. is its first target.

The local magazine features an 18-page story on how we can reinvent this city by introducing much-needed changes to the MTR-managed shopping malls.

While HK01 is advocating for a HK$2 MTR fare, it’s a bit grating that the publication itself costs HK$20 per copy. Oh well.

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EJ Insight writer

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