A group of seven media unions say they are “deeply shocked” by the sudden firing of Ming Pao’s executive chief editor. The media unions said the reason given by the newspaper’s management was “far-fetched”.

Keung Kwok-yuen was fired at midnight Wednesday with immediate effect, as the company explained in a statement that it “had to actively take on cost-cutting measures” in a “difficult operational environment”.

In a statement, the unions said: “We feel deeply worried and disturbed about the space and freedom of press, as a moderate and professional journalist was suddenly fired by executive means.”

Ming Pao
Ming Pao headquarters. Photo: Googlemaps.

The groups include the Hong Kong Journalist Association, the Independent Commentators Association, the Hong Kong Press Photographer Association, Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, the RTHK Programme Staff Union, the Next Media Trade Union and the International Federation of Journalists.

The statement said Keung, a veteran journalist responsible for the newspaper’s editorial direction, was perceived by many staff members to be the “soul of the team”. It questioned whether there were other considerations behind the “unusual arrangement”.

Curious timing

Ming Pao on Wednesday published on its front page a set of stories analysing the Panama Papers and the Hong Kong politicians and businessmen named in the documents leaked from a law firm.

“Keung Kwok-yuen was a veteran journalist upholding the principle of objective reporting, who considered the public interest in reporting – but he was not allowed at Ming Pao. We feel extremely disappointed and urge the management of Ming Pao to explain the incident to the public immediately,” the statement said.

The unions added that Keung’s departure was a “huge loss” to both Ming Pao and Hong Kong people, and “heavily damaged the morale of Ming Pao editorial staff”.

Ming Pao front page on Panama Papers, April 20.
Ming Pao’s front page on the Panama Papers, April 20. Photo: HKFP.

The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor also said it was “deeply concerned” about the sudden firing.

“The Monitor finds this sudden midnight dismissal unusual – the reason of ‘saving resources’ utterly unbelievable, and questions whether the dismissal was motivated by other reasons,” the NGO said.

See also: Satisfaction with Hong Kong press freedom lowest since 1997 handover – survey.

It added that it is “especially concerned as to whether this incident involves tampering with the freedom of the press, or discontent towards Mr. Keung’s opinions on editorial issues.”

“The Monitor urges the Ming Pao management and Mr. Chong Tien Siong, the Chief Editor, to respect and promise to defend press freedom in Hong Kong, and to explain this incident immediately to staff members and the public,” it said.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.