IFJ condemns Ming Pao senior manager for violating editorial independence

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), and the Ming Pao Union in condemning a senior executive of Ming Pao newspaper for deleting, without consultation, key words from headlines about the July 1 rally for democracy.

According to a statement by the Ming Pao Union, the editorial director of Ming Pao, Lui Ka-Ming, bypassed procedures for getting approval from the executive editor-in-chief and the assistant to the executive editor-in-chief. Lui unilaterally stopped the printing process and replaced “Fighting for universal suffrage” with “Police clearance action”.

The rally supported calls for genuine universal suffrage and public nomination of candidates in the 2017 elections for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council.

The statement said: “We are deeply furious with Lui’s unusual action. We strongly condemn it because such a manoeuvre breaches the normal practice of the editorial department. An intangible interference has finally become tangible, which sets a dangerous precedent for the paper.”

Lui answered the allegation in an article in Ming Pao on July 3. He said he discussed the change with the deputy editor-in-chief. However Lui did not say whether the deputy editor-in-chief agreed with the change and why he had deviated from the normal procedure of getting approval from the executive editor-in-chief and the assistant to the executive editor-in-chief.

In January this year, during the controversial removal of Ming Pao’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Lau, the newspaper’s editorial department claimed that Lui had intervened in the coverage of the row over the 2013 issue of Hong Kong’s new free-to-air television licences. Lui denied this.

The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said: “It is difficult to believe that Lui, a very experienced media executive, could set such a bad precedent by bypassing the paper’s practices. We understand members of the editorial board have the power to determine the content of the paper but this does not mean they can abuse their power and abruptly intervene and destroy the paper’s editorial independence.”

IFJ urges Lui to speak directly to Ming Pao staff, rather than giving his version in a news article. Communication and mutual trust are essential in the media industry and it is important to ensure that no further incidents occur.

We urge Ming Pao’s editor-in-chief, Cheung Kin-bor, to remind all Ming Pao staff, including senior management, to defend press freedom and ensure all required practices are followed.

We also urge all Ming Pao staff to stand firm and report violations to the internal union.

Ming Pao Daily has a substantial reputation in the Hong Kong media industry, but it has suffered considerable turmoil in 2014. After the former editor-in-chief Kevin Lau was suddenly removed, staff formed a group and expressed their deep concern about editorial independence. About a month later, Lau suffered a brutal attack by unknown people on the street that left him unable to walk.