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Day 36: March 1, 2024

The Witness: Live Update | Day 36 of Jimmy Lai’s Trial: Chan Pui-man Completes Testimony

Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and three related companies of Apple Daily are charged with “conspiring to collude with foreign forces” and other crimes. The case continued its 36th day of trial on Friday (1st) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court), with the second prosecution witness, former Apple Daily associate publisher Chan Pui-man, testifying for the 15th day.

Under cross-examination by the defense, Chan Pui-man agreed that different newspapers have different reporting angles. For example, Apple Daily was more critical and liberal from 2019 to 2020, while Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao were more pro-China, which is a common phenomenon and not inappropriate. Senior barrister Robert Pang Yiu-hung, representing Jimmy Lai, completed his questioning, and barrister Jon K.H. Wong, representing the three companies of Apple Daily, did not ask any question. The prosecution also completed their re-examination on the same day. It is understood that the next witness will be former chief editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee.

15:48 Court adjourned
15:30 Chan Pui-man completes her testimony

The prosecution continued to question Chan about a meeting record she sent in October 2020, citing one item as recruiting talents from Stand News. Chan said that it referred to talents for the art department. The prosecution then pointed out another key item mentioned “Headliner”, as well as Tsang Chi-ho and Wong He. Chan explained in court that at that time, Lai planned to produce “television news” for the online version, requiring “TV anchors, that is, to put television news on our website,” but Lai “didn’t want it to be traditional, didn’t want it to be like the 6:30 pm or 7:00 pm news on TV stations, so he wanted to add segments in the style of “Headliner”… in the style of RTHK, and mentioned finding people to make comments, like these candidates here.” Chan added that she had expressed at the lunch box meeting that “I wanted to do serious news reporting, but adding these segments, I felt it wasn’t quite appropriate. However, Lai insisted on having these segments in the end, describing them as lively.”

Judge Alex Lee asked if Chan’s concerns and reservations were overruled at that time. Chan confirmed, adding that the project was not directly related to the physical newspaper she was responsible for, and confirmed that the project was eventually implemented. The prosecution asked if Chan’s earlier description of Lai being assertive was an example of this situation. Chan described it as “an example.”

The prosecution stated that they had finished their re-examination, and Judge Esther Toh told Chan, “You have completed your testimony.” Chan nodded, did not look at Lai Jimmy or her husband Chung Pui-kuen in the public gallery as she left.

Judges expressed concern about the progress of the trial, and the prosecution said they would make good use of court time, estimating that the next witness’s examination would take 7 days. It is understood that the next witness will be the former chief editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee.

15:00 Chan confirms that she wrote the lunch box meeting records when Cheung Kim-hung was absent

The prosecution continued to display messages sent by Chan on September 18, 2019, mentioning “the truth about 831 that the public is most concerned about,” “exposing the Fujian gang,” and “considerations for the escalation of valiant.” Chan confirmed. The prosecution then asked what “a collection for readers – 100 days of resistance” referred to. Chan said it was the special issue “Summer of Freedom.”

The prosecution further cited a message sent by Chan on May 15, 2020, “Summary of today’s opinions and follow-up items.” The prosecution asked why Chan was responsible for writing the record at that time. Chan explained that Cheung Kim-hung was unable to attend the lunch box meeting at that time.

14:32 Chan confirms that Lai would request a review and follow-up on lunch box meeting items

The prosecution began questioning about Apple Daily’s work platform Slack, displaying screenshots of Slack, including “HK Apple Newspaper Dialogue” and “HK Apple Paper Managers.” Chan confirmed under questioning that the dialogues were related to lunch box meetings. The prosecution then asked if Chan had attended any other lunch box meetings besides these. Chan said, “I don’t have an impression of attending other lunch box meetings.”

The prosecution then cited a meeting record “Today’s Key Points and Follow-up” sent by Cheung Kim-hung on Slack on January 3, 2019, to which Chan replied, “Thank you, will follow up.” The prosecution asked what Chan would follow up on at that time. Chan said she would follow up on key points related to newspaper content, such as “making special features grounded, popular, as close to readers’ needs as possible, or newspaper layout competitions.”

The prosecution cited a message from Lai the next day, saying “Pui-man, please have a post-meeting review and follow-up execution meeting based on Kim-hung’s summary above, thank you.” The prosecution asked what Lai meant by “review.” Chan explained it meant reviewing the items, suggestions, and instructions discussed earlier to see if they had been implemented.

The prosecution then displayed a message from Lai on June 18, 2019, asking about the magazine-style of the newspaper, followed by Lam Man-chung providing his opinion. The prosecution asked if the content of Lai’s message was the topic for the next lunch box meeting, and if attendees would provide their opinions before the meeting started. Chan confirmed.

12:58 Lunch break
12:30 Prosecution questions whether Lai ever told colleagues to “hang in there”

The prosecution continued to display conversations between Cheung Kim-hung and Chan after Lai was remanded, with Cheung mentioning “the boss’s columns in the supplement, Twitter live, Twitter post, foreign media interviews, many are listed as evidence.” The prosecution asked if the supplement referred to Lai’s columns. Chan confirmed. Chan added that Twitter live should refer to Lai’s content on Twitter, likely video content.

The prosecution then cited that the defense had previously questioned whether Lai ever said “hang in there,” to which Chan had replied, “this term is not used here.” The prosecution then displayed a message from Cheung to Chan, mentioning “I asked him what to say to colleagues and readers: 1. Don’t worry about me 2. For me, it’s fate, an opportunity to settle down and read some books 3. In troubled times, still have to move forward,” to which Chan responded, “Received, he is very brave, and his religious faith also helps.” Judge Alex Lee interrupted, saying that whether Lai said “hang in there” is hearsay evidence in the message, and the prosecution said they would address it in their closing argument.

The prosecution then questioned about the report “Chan Pui-man chose to stay at the scene of the disaster, Husband: She is calm, strong, and composed” on June 18, 2021, which mentioned “Despite working with Lai Jimmy for many years, it does not affect news judgment, and the focus of the headline that day was the first conviction of senior barrister Martin Lee.” The prosecution cited that the defense had previously questioned “news judgment,” and Chan had answered that the context of the article was about the event of Martin Lee’s conviction.

Chan explained in court today that it was about the news of illegal assembly because “at that time, Lai was also one of the convicted people. That is, some editors said, should the focus be placed on Lai? Then I and some other colleagues felt that since it was the first time Martin Lee was convicted, the focus should be on Martin Lee, it’s about this event.”

12:15 Prosecution: What did Lai mean by “coming up with strategies to counter” after the National Security Law?
Chan: I understood it as being cautious with words

The prosecution continued to question about messages after the National Security Law came into effect. They cited a message from Lai to Chan on July 1, 2020, mentioning “was shocked by the details of the National Security Law… need to come up with strategies to counter, cannot be reckless.” The prosecution asked what Lai meant by “coming up with strategies to counter, cannot be reckless” at that time? Chan recalled that Lai “just said it vaguely like that” because Cheung Kim-hung also gave a reminder afterward, as mentioned earlier in her testimony, “to be cautious with sensitive words and topics in reporting, I understood Mr. Cheung was talking about this.”

The prosecution further asked what “coming up with strategies to counter” referred to. Chan responded that she didn’t “think deeply about what he was countering” because Lai mentioned in the message that “Kim-hung has a plan,” “so at that time, I was thinking that Mr. Cheung would further explain to us, I didn’t delve into the specific strategies that Lai mentioned.”

The prosecution again asked if any actions were taken at that time to avoid using certain words, and if Cheung Kim-hung had discussed the issue of sensitive words with Chan? Chan confirmed both.

12:07 Chan confirms Lai is a pan-democrat supporter and values related news

The prosecution continued to question around messages between Chan and Lai, where Lai sent a message to Chan on May 6, 2018, “Pui-man, for example, can we find a retired police officer or former ICAC officer to write some insights integrated into today’s headline? Just a thought. Thanks. Jimmy.” The prosecution pointed out that Chan had previously testified that Lai had expressed opinions on already published reports before 2019, was this message one of those instances? Chan confirmed.

Chan indicated under questioning that the report mentioned in the message was about the arrest of Legislative Council member Ted Hui Chi-fung, and confirmed that Hui is a pan-democrat. The prosecution cited that Chan had previously testified that Lai would value some news, and asked Chan if Lai would value this news? Chan confirmed, explaining “because Lai is a pan-democrat supporter.”

The prosecution also cited a message between Chan and Lam Man-chung on August 1, 2019, where Chan messaged “I have already given a heads-up to the publisher, the newspaper’s front page on Monday will have an open window (blank space), and there will be a text explaining that we support the strike, but due to our social role, we are unable to stop.” The prosecution asked who “we” referred to in this context? Chan explained it referred to Apple Daily, adding that many colleagues in the newsroom knew Lai supported the strike, “some middle management and frontline staff raised the question, asking if they could exercise their right to strike.” As part of the management, she felt that as a news organization, “we couldn’t say we would join the strike and not publish the newspaper, so after a long discussion within the company, we decided to handle it this way.”

The prosecution further asked who proposed the idea of having an “open window” on the front page that day? Chan said that after discussion among the management, they decided to use this method “to explain why we couldn’t participate in the strike, but also express our stance.”

11:22 Court adjourned

11:00 Chan says during the anti-extradition bill period, there were often sudden changes that required layout adjustments
She mainly reviewed layouts and seldom read the content

The prosecution pointed out that the defense had previously cited the front-page report from September 1, 2019, “MTR Massive Arrests Lead to Yuen Long Terror Attack 2.0; Raptor Squad Indiscriminately Beats Citizens,” and Chan confirmed under cross-examination that she thought the headline was appropriate at the time. The prosecution referred to messages between Lam Man-chung and Chan in the early hours of that day, where Chan mentioned “Price Edward might need to change the layout.” The prosecution asked if Chan had seen the draft content of the related report at that time. Chan said she had looked at the title and photos, but the content of the article had not yet been “put in place,” and she also seldom read the content because the reporters would hand over their articles to the chief of reporting, who would then check the information and read the content. If Lam Man-chung reviewed it and found it inappropriate, he would notify the reporters and the chief of reporting, so Chan would not read the content herself but would review the entire “layout.”

Chan added that she usually left the company at 8 p.m., but during the anti-extradition bill period in 2019, there were still some news events after 8 p.m. that required layout changes, and the sudden incidents that occurred in the evening were often worthy of being on the front page, so they would communicate in the aforementioned manner.

Chan explained that the layout change she mentioned in the message was based on her reviewing news reports at home and finding new developments on the scene, “I was afraid that they were busy in the newsroom and didn’t know the situation, and the time was very tight, after a certain time, there would be no more chance to change the layout,” so she asked Lam Man-chung in the early hours whether new content needed to be added.

The prosecution asked if she thought the report was appropriate when she later reviewed the print version of the newspaper. Chan said she did not find any issues at that time.

10:21 Prosecutor: Did Lai Still Advocate Peaceful Protests After 2019?
Chan: Felt Lai was Sympathetic to “Non-Peaceful” Methods

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan began his re-examination, pointing out that Chan had previously confirmed Lai advocated peaceful protests before 2019. The prosecutor then asked about the period after 2019. Chan described that she felt Lai had a “sympathetic attitude” towards “non-peaceful” protest methods. She added that, based on Lai’s instructions, for example, during the July 1st storming of the Legislative Council, it could be interpreted as not wanting the movement to disappear or stop. Therefore, Lai wanted them to interview more protesters to let the public understand and empathize with their actions, even though many considered storming the Legislative Council as not a peaceful protest activity.

The prosecutor also referred to the editorial charter of “Apple Daily,” which includes a clause on maintaining the separation of editorial and business operations. Chan confirmed this. When asked about the purpose of writing the charter when Cheung Kim-hung asked Chan to do so, she recalled that Cheung mentioned it was suggested by the “corporate auditing” department as their parent company was a listed company. The prosecutor pointed out that the charter came into effect on April 1, 2019, and asked if the effective date was related to the financial year. Chan said she did not remember why it became effective on that date.

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if the clause on separation of editorial and business operations was related to another clause that stipulates news reporting should adhere to the principles of truth, fairness, objectivity, and independence. Chan explained that the latter clause is broader because it includes not being influenced by political, commercial, religious, and other interests, while the former clause specifically addresses commercial interests as one of the factors. Lee further asked if different newspapers can have different political stances in terms of reporting angles. Chan believed they could and should discuss their political beliefs in editorials, whereas news reporting, as mentioned in the fifth clause, “emphasizes reporting based on factual truth, so news reporting and commentary are different.” She added that if someone submits an opinion piece, it’s clearly the author’s stance and viewpoint, while “news reporting is based on the facts.”

Judge Lee further inquired if “Apple Daily” had mechanisms in place to ensure editorial independence. Chan responded that it depended on the “awareness of the colleagues themselves.”

10:15 Defense Concludes Cross-Examination

The defense continued to question Chan Pui-man about the reporting angle of “Apple Daily.” They pointed out that it is very common for different newspapers and media to have different reporting angles. Chan agreed. The defense cited local newspapers as examples, stating that “Apple Daily” was more critical and open compared to other newspapers during 2019 to 2020. Chan said, “You could say that.” The defense continued, suggesting that “Ming Pao” or “Hong Kong Economic Times” were relatively conservative and pro-government. Chan responded, “I don’t want to interpret the direction of other media.” The defense then asked if “Wen Wei Po” and “Ta Kung Pao” were more pro-China, to which Chan observed, “That seems to be the case.” The defense followed up, asking if there is nothing wrong with newspapers having different reporting angles. Chan said, “You could say that.”

Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung, representing Jimmy Lai, concluded his cross-examination. Barrister Jon K.H. Wong, representing the three “Apple Daily” companies, had no questions. The prosecution began their re-examination.

10:03 Defense points to “Next Magazine” reporting alleged “betrayal” by Lai after sale
Publisher Louise Wong Lai-sheung not Punished, Chan: Not Sure

The defense continued to question Chan Pui-man about the editorial situation at “Apple Daily.” They mentioned that the group sold “Next Magazine” in 2017, and on July 20, 2017, the cover of “Next Magazine” featured an unflattering photograph of Jimmy Lai’s portrait. Chan said she was unsure what report the defense was referring to.

The defense then showed the magazine cover, which was titled “The Inside Story of Selling Next Magazine,” along with Lai’s portrait. They asked if this implied that Lai had betrayed his own creation, “Next Magazine.” Chan responded that she was unclear if the person who came up with the title had the meaning suggested by the defense. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang followed up, asking if “betrayal” could be implied by “selling out.” Chan agreed. The defense continued, pointing out that the president of “Next Magazine” at the time was Louise Wong Lai-sheung, who was not punished for publishing the article. Chan said she was not clear about the internal affairs of “Next Magazine,” but she knew Louise Wong Lai-sheung worked there.

10:03 Court commences

10:00 Jimmy Lai enters the courtroom

Jimmy Lai entered the courtroom and waved to his family.

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