The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said on Thursday that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was “intentionally targeting the media” after Leung sent a letter to Apple Daily on Monday accusing it of defamation. The journalism watchdog said it was “shocked” and “regretted” Leung’s actions.
Leung’s letter said that an editorial written by Lo Fung and published by Apple Daily on September 8 “falsely, viciously, and maliciously accused” Leung of corruption over a HK$50 million secret payment from Australian Corporation UGL.
It also said that this amounted to “the usage of the false corruption allegation to prevent Mr CY Leung from exercising his constitutional right to stand for re-election as the Chief Executive of the HKSAR, if he chooses to.” The “malicious falsehood” is consistent with other reports and articles published by Apple Daily since Leung took office, it added.
The HKJA said that while it understood that everyone had the right to protect themselves against defamation, “the Chief Executive should, as the highest official of the Special Administrative Region, be careful about exercising relevant powers.”
“Monitoring the person in power is the job of the journalist, and questioning and criticising the mistakes or inappropriate behaviour of those in power is a responsibility of the media as the fourth estate,” it added.
It also said that Leung had never publicly expressed his intention to seek re-election in public, and to suddenly bring up re-election in the letter “will lead to public suspicion and concern that Leung is intentionally trying to create a chilling effect.”
Leung previously sent a letter in 2013 to veteran commentator Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, claiming that a commentary piece he had written accused Leung of having links with triads and asking for the piece to be retracted.
Chan Pui-man, Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, said that the newspaper had already handed the matter over to its lawyers and that sending letters to the media has been a tactic of Leung.
Chances of success
Singtao News reported a source saying that neither UK or Australian law enforcement agencies had followed up the matter of the UGL payment in the past two years. The source also said that Leung had prepared for the case, and consulted lawyers, and that he was confident of winning a defamation case against Apple Daily.
In May of this year Next Magazine, owned by Apple Daily’s publisher Next Digital, was ordered to pay over HK$3 million to Bawang International Group and its subsidiary after losing a defamation case.
Jeffrey Tam Chun-kit, of the Progressive Lawyers Group, told HKFP that while claiming defamation is not unusual for Leung, it is rare for politicians in Hong Kong to do so, as it was an image issue.
While he said that he was uncertain whether Leung was confident about winning the case, Tam also said that “the lawyer saying that [the editorial] will affect his re-election, I think that according to the law, it is the same as announcing that he would run for re-election, so the election should begin from yesterday [Thursday].”