Press freedom in Hong Kong at stake after editor’s removal

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned over the abrupt removal of a respected newspaper editor in Hong Kong. Kevin Lau, chief editor of the trusted Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao Daily was stood down on Monday January 6, prompting concern among staff and journalists about media freedoms being further curtailed in Hong Kong.

About 270 staff members, more than 90% of the Ming Pao Daily editorial staff, have signed a petition demanding that the executive committee explain the reasoning behind the decision and flagging concerns that the newspaper’s editorial independence was being threatened. In addition, it has been reported that a further 300 former Ming Pao Daily staffers have signed a petition expressing deep concern over potential threats to freedom of the press in Hong Kong.

Staff at the Ming Pao Daily met on Monday January 13 to discuss the changes and raised concerns over the choice to replace Lau as chief editor with Chong Tien-siong, a Malaysian national currently living in Singapore.

Local IFJ affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) seconded the sentiments that the new editor should be someone with a good understanding of local issues.

“In this critical moment of political change in Hong Kong, it’s not sensible to replace the chief editor with a person who might not understand the local context,” said Sham Yee-lan, chairperson of the HJKA.

Ming Pao is controlled by Malaysian-Chinese tycoon Tiong Hiew King, who has palm oil businesses in Malaysia and has reportedly invested in China for decades.

The IFJ says that 2013 saw a concerning trend toward media freedoms for journalists being obstructed by both Government and media owners. In March 2013, senior management of Radio Television Hong Kong admitted to experiencing political intervention from the Board of Directors. August 2013 saw the Independent Commission Against Corruption force two separate media outlets to hand over journalistic materials and in November two outspoken radio program hosts were removed from a popular talk show on a government owned radio station. In its reporting, Ming Pao has criticized some government policies and pushed for democratic reforms in the city. The newspaper also exposed several political scandals in recent years.

“The sudden removal of a respected editor in such a swift manner with little explanation is a deeply concerning issue for Hong Kong’s journalists and the IFJ and appears to be a warning to those who seek to report the truth and criticise government,” the IFJ said.

The IFJ has warned against political intervention in Hong Kong’s media and calls on media operators take heed of the concerns of Hong Kong’s strong journalistic community.

“While Hong Kong continues to enjoy considerable press freedom, the Ming Pao case sets a worrying precedent on journalistic independence which we will continue to monitor closely.”