HK Editor Removed Amid Fears For Press Freedom

09-Jan-2014 Intellasia | RFA | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The editor of an influential Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong has been removed from his post amid worries about the future of press freedom in the former British colony.

Ming Pao editor-in-chief Kevin Lau will now take up a new post at the group’s e-publishing and education unit, a former journalist at the newspaper revealed on a popular news talk show.

There are fears that Lau, who has edited the Ming Pao since 2012, is being moved as part of a “repositioning” of the paper, which is widely viewed as a good source of news on the inner workings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

According to former reporter Vivian Tam, Lau will be replaced by a Malaysian journalist, management announced to staff on Monday.

Sources at the newspaper said staff feared an all-round editorial shake-up, and that the paper’s editorial independence would be affected.

The Malaysian journalist believed to succeed Lau is currently living in Singapore and was previously chief editor of a Malaysian newspaper, the English-language South China Morning Post quoted sources at the Ming Pao as saying.

Shunted aside?

However, the paper moved to counter fears that Lau has been shunted aside in favour of someone more pliable to a media company with close ties to China.

“Lau will shoulder important responsibilities in a new position,” the paper said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The Ming Pao has gone through several chief editors but its editorial policy will remain unswerved,” the statement said.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) issued a statement saying it was “worried and concerned about the sudden change of editor” at the paper.

Veteran journalist Ching Cheong, who has worked for the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper and the Straits Times in Singapore, said it was highly unusual for a foreigner to be appointed to edit a major Hong Kong Chinese-language news outlet.

“In the past we have seen this happen more with the left-leaning newspapers like the Wen Wei Po and the Ta Kung Pao,” Ching said.


He said there had been a precedent set by the editorial changes that took place at the South China Morning Post, however.

“That’s why Hong Kong people get very worried about such changes,” he said. “I think their fears are well-founded.”

The Ming Pao currently ranks third out of 22 news organisations in a recent survey of media credibility in Hong Kong, according to a poll carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

It had previously ranked first among Chinese-language media.

Some media reports linked Lau’s removal to the paper’s front-page coverage in October of broadcaster Hong Kong TV’s failure to win a free-to-air television license, which linked the government’s decision to political concerns that the station’s reporting might offend Beijing.

Former North America chief executive Lui Ka-ming has been called in to “rectify” the paper’s editorial line ahead of a crucial public debate on electoral reforms, a possible “Occupy” movement in the Central business district, and the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Apple Daily newspaper reported.

Hurting advertisement revenue

Current affairs commentator Poon Siu-to said Lau might have been removed over concerns that the paper’s editorial line was hurting revenue from advertisers with business interests across the internal border in mainland China.

“I think that this is a great threat to press freedom,” Poon said. “A media organisation isn’t just a private company; it also has elements of a public service.”

“In future, this will also be the fate of anyone else who sticks to their guns,” he said. “The message is very clear.”

Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.

But journalists and political analysts say that the Communist Party has redoubled its efforts to influence public opinion in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.

They cite a growing number of occasions where comments from Beijing officials have dictated policy changes in Hong Kong, weakening the “one country, two systems” concept that had underpinned the handover.


Category: Hong Kong

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