The labour union of Hong Kong’s Next Media group says it fears that its Next Magazine publication may face censorship and a curtailment of its outspoken style in the future after it was sold to businessman Kenny Wee.

As the first publication established by pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the pioneering tabloid magazine is known for its investigative exposés on celebrities and political affairs.

Next Magazine
Next Magazine. File photo: Elson Tong/HKFP.

But following recent financial difficulties in the Next Media group, Lai disposed of the magazine and four sister publications for HK$500 million in a Monday sale that is expected to be completed in September. Next Media’s CEO told staff that the media tycoon was upset about the decision.

Censorship fears

In a statement the same day, the Next Media Trade Union said that it was saddened and concerned about the future of Next Magazine.

“Aside from concerns about the jobs of our relevant colleagues, we also express reservations as to whether the magazine can continue its outspoken style,” it said.

Next Magazine‘s new owner Wee acquired freely-distributed Hong Kong newspaper Metro Daily in 2013, but announced he was selling the publication last month. In 2015, he also started a tabloid magazine named E-Weekly.

In its statement, the Next Media Trade Union cited Wee as having once said: “Next Magazine is more aggressive, but I’m a bit more moderate.”

Kenny Wee Ho
Wee and his wife and child.

E-Weekly conducted two rounds of dismissals within one year of its establishment. Wee is selling Metro Daily only four years after purchasing it,” said the union. “These actions make us suspicious as to whether Next Magazine can continue its outspoken style and reporting quality – as well as whether employees can keep their jobs – after the sale.”

“Today, Next Media has not only surrendered a small part of its public influence, but also the trust and expectation of its employees and readers,” it added. “Today you can sell Next Magazine because of losses, tomorrow you can sell [lifestyle publication] Eat and Travel Weekly or even [flagship pro-democracy paper] Apple Daily.”

“I will do my best,” said Wee in response to enquiries from Apple Daily on the sale.

‘Son of a bitch’

On Monday, Next Magazine reported that an employee questioned Next Media CEO Cassian Cheung during a morning staff meeting regarding comments made by owner Lai, who claimed back in 2013 that he would not sell any of his publications.

jimmy lai
Jimmy Lai. Photo: Todd Darling.

“If I sell, then I would be a son of a bitch for the rest of my life,” he said in an interview at the time. “Hong Kong is my home. I have a responsibility to fight for democracy and universal suffrage, and I can’t shirk from it.”

Cheung replied that Lai meant he would be a “son of a bitch” if he sold his entire Next Media group, and not only Next Magazine.

The Next Media Trade Union has asked Next Media and Wee to guarantee that all Next Magazine staff would be able to keep their jobs if they wished to stay, and that the new management sign an agreement with employee representatives to promise editorial independence.

HKFP has contacted Next Media for comment.

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