Ming Pao editor sacked, sparking outcry in HK

'Streamlining exercise' seen as a blow to press freedom in the city

HONG KONG • The sacking of a respected Hong Kong newspaper editor has triggered a furious backlash from journalists and pro-democracy campaigners, in what was seen as the latest blow to press freedom in the city.

Mr Keung Kwok-yuen was fired overnight from investigative newspaper Ming Pao, whose former chief editor was stabbed by masked attackers in the street two years ago.

His sacking coincided with Ming Pao publishing a front-page story yesterday linking top Hong Kong businessmen and politicians to new revelations from the Panama Papers leak.

According to a statement by the Ming Pao Staff Association, Mr Keung was fired in the early hours of yesterday morning in what was billed as a streamlining exercise.

"The association... questions the company's surface reason of saving resources," it said. "It is penalising editorial personnel with different opinions."

JOURNALISTS UNNERVED

The decision (to sack Mr Keung) has set all the alarm bells ringing. The whole profession is trembling like a leaf because of political and economic pressures.

MS EMILY LAU, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, on the sacking of Mr Keung Kwok-yuen, editor of the investigative newspaper Ming Pao.

It added that members were "extremely angry and dissatisfied".

Reporters said the decision to sack Mr Keung was taken by Malaysian chief editor Chong Tien Siong, who is seen as pro-Beijing.

Mr Chong was brought in two years ago to replace veteran investigative journalist Kevin Lau, triggering protests by newspaper staff.

Soon after, Mr Lau was stabbed in the street, leaving him severely wounded, sparking major concerns over reporting freedoms.

"The decision (to sack Mr Keung) has set all the alarm bells ringing," said Ms Emily Lau, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party.

"The whole profession is trembling like a leaf because of political and economic pressures."

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said reporters were in shock over Mr Keung's sacking and described the reasons as "far-fetched".

"We are deeply worried and unsettled about the space and degree of freedom for local news," it said in a statement.

Fears are growing in the semi-autonomous city that China is tightening its political grip in a number of areas, including pressurising and influencing the local media.

In a new report yesterday, campaigning non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders said that Hong Kong's press freedoms had dipped slightly last year - the city is now ranked 69th in the world.

Its report said the Hong Kong media could still cover sensitive stories but "the need to fight to protect their editorial positions from Beijing's influence is increasingly noticeable".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'Ming Pao editor sacked, sparking outcry in HK'. Print Edition | Subscribe