A Hong Kong paper ran a fake obituary for its rival’s founder, who is very much alive


A copy of a full-page obituary in Thursday's Oriental Daily is displayed in Hong Kong. The notice says pro-democracy media magnate Lai Chee-ying (Jimmy Lai) died at 65 from AIDS and multiple cancers. (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)

A Hong Kong media tycoon, whose Apple Daily newspaper is an outspoken critic of Beijing, was the subject of a bizarre fake obituary in a rival paper this week. The obituary — which turned out to be an anonymous, full-page ad — claimed that Lai Chee-ying, who also goes by Jimmy Lai, died last week of AIDS and cancer.

Of course, the news is false. Lai is very much alive, and he released a video of himself to prove it.

According to the New York Times, the fake obituary ran on page A7 of a different Chinese-language Hong Kong paper, Oriental Daily, without any indication that the content was an advertisement.

Marketing Interactive estimates that a full-page ad in Oriental Daily would cost between HK$50,000 and HK$100,000 — or about $6,000 to $12,000 in U.S. currency. Marketing Interactive's translation of the ad reads as follows:

Lai Chee Ying (黎志英), male, nicknamed Fat Lai, hometown Shunde, born 8 December 1948, has passed away on 7 August 2014 at age 65 from AIDS and multiple cancers. Since his family members are also suffering from illness, there will be no funeral for his death.

Deepest condolences to all "Two Media" staff.

The Chinese-language ad replaced a single character in Lai's name with one that is pronounced identically. But it's clear that the Apple Daily founder was the target of the ad: The rest of the biographical details are identical to Lai's.

Nobody has claimed credit for the ad, which Lai suggested should not have been published, no matter who created it, placed it and paid for it.

From the Times story:

"Would NYT accept this ad? Of course not, nor would any responsible newspaper, including Apple Daily," Mr. Lai said in a phone text message. "As media we shouldn't have any personal animosity against anybody."

Although he is best-known in Asia, American readers might know Lai from another wing of Next Media, the parent company for Apple Daily: Next Media Animation is known in the west for its strangely funny animated videos of current events, including this one of Tiger Woods crashing his car outside of his Florida home.

Fittingly, Lai's response to the fake obituary was a video, which appears to be a phone-camera recording of the media mogul speaking, interspersed with images of the fake obit.

"They want me to die? Is it really that easy?" Lai said in the video, according to AFP's translation. "Sorry to disappoint you."

In June, Apple Daily was the victim of a cyberattack that many blamed on the Beijing government. As Reporters Without Borders noted, the paper's Web site was brought down twice by unusually thorough attacks.

Hong Kong-based outlets generally have more freedom than Chinese mainland media, although a recent Economist piece detailed how that is slowly changing:

"Under 'one country, two systems,' the formula used to govern the territory after the handover, Hong Kong was assured that its press would retain its former freedoms. However, it has been tamed in more subtle ways: ownership has shifted to pro-Beijing tycoons, and advertising has been used to exert pressure — as have violence and intimidation."

The Economist reported that Apple Daily lost three of its major financial services advertisers last fall, including HBSC. Apple Daily claimed at the time that the three banks pulled their ads from the paper under pressure from the Chinese government, but the banks denied it.

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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