by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Next Apple News/Facebook
THE SAGA OF the Apple Daily Taiwan has taken a strange turn, with the announcement by Singaporean entrepreneur Joseph Phua that 96% of the current Apple Daily Taiwan staff will move with him to a new publication called Next Apple News (壹蘋新聞網). The announcement was posted on the existing Apple Daily Taiwan website, along with a statement that the website would cease publication on August 31st, with the new website for Next Apple News launching today on September 1st.
Supposedly, this new publication will not use the existing website, brand, or assets of the Apple Daily Taiwan. That being said, the name of the publication and its logo are clearly intended to convey continuity with the Apple Daily and its parent company, Next Media. It is anticipated that this may lead to scrutiny from the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), regarding whether its trademark overlaps with the Apple Daily Taiwan. The MOEA also claims that because of its current backlog, it may only be able to address this issue within five months.
Details remain unclear, but Phua has reportedly split with Hong Kong businessman Kenny Wee. Wee and Phua were reported as the buyers of the Apple Daily Taiwan by Ming Pao and other Hong Kong outlets in June. Phua has stated that he will not be working with Wee and that Wee is not involved in the new future, blaming the deal going south on that Wee did not provide necessary documentation to him or the MOEA.
It is unclear whether the two genuinely split or if this is to allay fears that the Apple Daily Taiwan will end up in control of Chinese capital through the acquisition. There is increasing scrutiny on when Chinese capital attempts to invest in Taiwan and take control of media enterprises or other businesses, posing as Hong Kong investment, Singaporean investment, or investment from other countries.
It is further unclear where the Apple Daily Taiwan stands legally, in terms of its adherence to laws, and how regulators are carrying out enforcement. After reports of the Apple Daily Taiwan’s sale to Phua and Wee in June, the Apple Daily Taiwan applied to lay off 280 employees with the Taipei Department of Labor, although many employees of the media organization did not seem to be privy to the details at the time.
The original Apple Daily in Hong Kong shut down in June 2021 after the Hong Kong government froze the newspaper’s resources, dispatched five hundred police officers to its offices in a raid, and arrested key staff and executives including owner Jimmy Lai, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, CEO, and chief operating officer. The newspaper tabloid was one of the major pro-democracy outlets in Hong Kong.
Subsequently, the Taiwanese branch of the newspaper continued to operate separately, though questions about what would happen to the paper continued to swirl. A Hong Kong court-appointed liquidator sought to acquire the Apple Daily Taiwan’s assets for liquidation, but this was blocked by the Tsai administration. The Economic Democracy Union argued that the Taiwanese government would have been within its rights to ignore the request and the Ministry of Culture eventually ordered Apple Daily to refuse requests by Hong Kong authorities regarding financial and personal data and not transfer data across the border.
Statement on Facebook by the Economic Democracy Union on the matter
In particular, concerns raised by Taiwanese civil society groups such as the Economic Democracy Union was that another Taiwanese media outlet end up being acquired by pro-China interests, as in the series of incidents that led to the outbreak of the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement in 2012. Phua is one of the founders of streaming platform 17Live and there have been concerns that the platform serves to disseminate Chinese disinformation through streaming in past years. But to this extent, there was also much concern about personal data held by the Apple Daily Taiwan about its subscriber base, past workers, and authors could end up in Chinese hands. This could prove dangerous to authors and former workers who are Taiwanese in China, Hongkongers, or Chinese nationals.
The Economic Democracy Union filed a suit against Apple Online CEO Wu Yu-ai and CFO Johnny Chern for breaches of the Personal Data Protection Act at the time of the newspaper’s apparent acquisition by Phua and Wee in June.
Responding to such criticism, the Apple Daily has announced that data on employees will be sealed for five to seven years, while tax and financial data will be destroyed after five to ten years, while subscriber data and news material will be permanently sealed. After the announcement of the launch of Next Apple News, the Economic Democracy Union continued to be critical of this, in that sealing data does not mean the destruction of such data. The Economic Democracy Union has called for the destruction of sensitive data after the Apple Daily ceased operating. It is to be seen whether Next Apple News complies with this, as well as what the subsequent moves of the company are.