Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying has been targeting the pro-democracy Apple Daily for almost two weeks, urging his supporters to boycott companies which bought advertising space in the pro-democracy tabloid.
Leung first mentioned one of the newspaper’s full-page advertisers on March 16. Highlighting an electric appliance retailer by name, Leung said on his Facebook page: “Should we believe in a company that put up ads in such a newspaper?”
Leung had specifically criticised veteran commentator Lee Yee for a March 13 column article on the death of Peter Wong entitled “Karma.”
Wong was a veteran Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress who died earlier this month aged 70. Lee wrote that some Hong Kong people were happy about his passing.
“This guy often proposed the legislation of Article 23 [the national security law], which Hong Kong people fear the most, at National People’s Congress meetings – this not only failed to reflect the general wishes of Hong Kong people, but it also helped the neo-colonisers force this evil law upon Hong Kong people,” Lee wrote.
“It is natural that many Hong Kong people took the bad news as good news.”
In response, Leung said the public must respond to the “lack of morality” in Lee’s article and seek justice for the dead, by boycotting the advertisers. He has made social media posts on an almost daily basis drawing attention to full-page advertisers.
Last Friday, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) issued a statement, saying that it was extremely concerned about Leung’s behaviour: “Hong Kong protects freedom of speech, but when exercising this freedom, residents should respect others’ freedom to choose, and consider the negative impact of their speech,” it said.
The HKJA said the behaviour of Leung, now a state leader, is watched by many and can influence the community: “His public pressure against advertisers is not desirable – it does not only make people feel he is trying to affect commercial decisions, [but] it also sets a bad precedent, causing unnecessary trouble for advertisers.”
“As a free and open economy, free trade is key to Hong Kong’s success. Residents have the freedom to choose their media, and advertisers can conduct their own analysis and choose which outlets to advertise with. The decisions of advertisers are commercial ones and should not be interfered with.”
Leung said in response that Apple Daily advertisers have a duty to explain to consumers if they agree with the newspaper on important moral issues.
“Consumers of the free world have the right to be concerned about the moral stance of providers of products and services,” Leung said. “Mass boycotts of product and services providers who cross moral bottom lines are common.”
“Enterprises of the free world have moral responsibilities. They cannot ignore their responsibilities by talking about ‘free trade’ like the HKJA,” he added.
Leung urged the HKJA to reflect on itself.