The Taiwan office of Apple Daily has encouraged its journalists to leave and cover news for the media outlet on a freelance basis, according to an internal memo.

The proposed arrangement comes after parent company Next Digital announced losses of almost HK$394 million for the financial year ending in March. The loss is HK$70 million more than the loss in the preceding year, as advertising income declines.

Next Media Next Digital Apple Daily Taiwan
The internal circular (L), Next Media’s Taiwan office (R).

In a circular dated June 14, originated on popular Taiwanese forum PTT, Apple Daily attributed the proposed arrangement to the difficulties faced by media outlets due to the rise of the internet and smartphones.

“We encourage our colleagues to be entrepreneurial, establishing a small company, a personal workshop or a personal media business – Apple Daily will then cooperate [with them] on a contractual basis.”

The outlet told staff that if they left to become freelancers, they could be paid for each written article, and rewarded for exclusive or breaking reports.

The outlet added “as an example” that graphic artists would only be paid at 70 to 80 per cent of their current salary if they signed a cooperation agreement with Apple Daily. However, they could also increase their income by submitting work to other companies.

“Apple Daily will provide existing hardware and software (such as computers) for work purposes at no cost…. Colleagues from all departments are welcome to suggest proposals for entrepreneurship.”

Next Media Headquarters
Next Media headquarters in Hong Kong.

The Association of Taiwan Journalists, the country’s industry group, criticised the proposal in a Thursday statement, likening it to a re-negotiation of employee labour conditions.

“‘Contract reporters’ will lose the protective umbrella of the labour laws, including minimum wage, limits on overtime work and holiday rights, and will even have to pay their own insurance.”

See also: Digital Hong Kong news outlet Initium Media to lay off ‘substantial’ no. of staff amid funding fears

“Apple Daily’s ‘entrepreneurship proposal’ is also a blow against the rights of workers to unite… as an individual company or personal workshop, they will not have a labour union, and will lose collective bargaining rights against Apple Daily.”

HKFP has contacted Next Digital for comment.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.