Sex, Lies and Celebrities

By Meyer, Mahlon | Newsweek International, August 20, 2001 | Go to article overview

Sex, Lies and Celebrities


Meyer, Mahlon, Newsweek International


For years, Jimmy Lai published a best-selling newspaper and magazine in Hong Kong. His mix of no-holds-barred criticism of Beijing and raw tabloid style continually astonished Hong Kong readers. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, he cursed Prime Minister Li Peng in print, infuriating the Chinese leadership. Two years ago his Apple Daily paid a man to pose with prostitutes after his wife supposedly committed suicide because of his extramarital affairs. (The story was a hoax.) And earlier this year, his Next magazine held a mock "ugliest female official" contest and awarded the top prize to Hong Kong Secretary of Security Regina Ip. Now, four years after Hong Kong's handover to Beijing, Lai has taken his sensationalistic journalism to Taiwan. The first printing of the Taiwan version of Next sold 275,000 copies in one hour. But many of the island's celebrities are up in arms over Lai's salacious style. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Mahlon Meyer during a brief return to Hong Kong, he defended his brassy tabloid style--and explained why he thinks China is the next Taiwan. Excerpts:

MEYER: Why did you choose to immigrate to Taiwan and start a magazine?

LAI: I think the fact that Chen Shui-bian was elected [president] was a very clear sign that democracy in Taiwan is an eternal reality. It is irreversible. Under the [former ruling party] KMT, you always had doubts about democracy because they had such control over the country. Second, I really think Taiwan is the future of China. Politically, it can be a titanic catalyst for China to become a more liberal, if not necessarily democratic, country. Taiwan as an idea can be very influential in inducing China [toward] greater democracy. That's what makes Taiwan very unique and very important. So Taiwan naturally will become a media focus.

What did you find most surprising about Taiwan?

There are a lot of myths about how the Taiwanese reader is different than the Hong Kong reader. A lot of people told me Taiwanese readers are very politically oriented. They like to read political commentary. Anything about politics and politicians. This is absolutely not true. In our focus groups, the readers tell us that they only like to read about politics or politicians when there's a scandal or a love affair or some funny gaffe. …

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