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Jimmy Lai to sell HK media firm for $64m

HONG KONG

Hong Kong media company Next Digital, founded by tycoon and outspoken Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, said on Monday it plans to sell its flagship magazine and four others to a local businessman for HK$500 million ($64.08 million).

Next Magazine is well known for its in-depth investigative reports about Chinese and local politics, as well as gossipy articles about the city’s social elite, triads and entertainers.

Some employees questioned whether the magazine will continue with its outspoken editorial stance at a time when some residents and journalists believe press freedom in the former British colony has deteriorated.

“Apart from concerns over jobs, we have deep reservations on whether the magazine can retain its outspoken style,” said the Next Media Trade Union in a statement.

The board at Next Digital will negotiate a formal agreement with a company owned by Kenny Wee, a Hong Kong-born businessman and former owner of the free Metro Daily newspaper, it said.

“Lai is sad, but what needs to be done has to be done, so he says yes,” CEO of Next Digital Cassian Cheung was quoted as saying by Apple Daily, the leading opposition newspaper in Hong Kong that is owned by Next Digital.

A top executive of Next Digital, when reached by Reuters by phone, said the decision was a “very difficult one” but refused to elaborate.

Lai and Wee could not be immediately reached for comment. In an internal email sent to employees, Cheung said the deal is expected to be completed by the end of September.

“In the past few years, we have seen the changes in the news media as it transitions from print to digital. This is an unstoppable trend,” Cheung wrote in the email. “This decision to sell the magazines is an important part of the transition plan, and it shows the transition work is basically complete.”

Agencies