Jimmy Lai Chee-ying must be thinking of expanding into regional media. Otherwise, why did he bring in three United States journalism heavyweights as his independent non-executive directors?
On Wednesday, Next Digital appointed Mark Clifford, a former editor of the South China Morning Post who is now an executive director of the Asia Business Council. He has reported in Asia since the early ’90s as a Businessweek and Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent.
His appointment came six weeks before Lai’s media flagship appointed Louis Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
Joining Brad Hamm, the dean of the School of Journalism of Northwestern University who will step down after this academic term, the three retired American journalists made up three of the four independent non-executive directors and seven directors in total.
What does the media maverick have in mind?
It is quite unlikely Lai would want to venture into English media because his own Apple Daily and Next Magazine are still evolving. Three months ago when he returned to the chairmanship, he ordered the close of the print version of his founding Next Magazine after an earlier effort to sell the magazine last summer failed.
There were talks about starting a media company in Myanmar a few years ago, but nothing materialized. Last year, Lai moved his animation business from Taipei to Bali.
It is quite likely that Lai could not find enough locals for his board, given the hard approach from Beijing on the pro-democracy and anti-China media group.
It is widely reported that advertisers faced political pressure with the Next Digital group. With a lower-than-average income, it is hard for Lai to maintain a better-than-average editorial team. The group, which once employed 4,000 staff in Hong Kong and Taiwan, has been in downsizing mode in the past five years.
Now with the Americans on board, it has only reinforced the Communist perception that Next Digital is a foreign-dominated power to stir up the social unrest in Hong Kong.