The Ming Pao Staff Association has said it is “extremely angered and dissatisfied” by the sudden firing of the Chinese newspaper’s executive chief editor.

The union said that Chief Editor Chong Tien Siong fired executive chief editor Keung Kwok-yuen at midnight Wednesday, with immediate effect to “save resources”.

“The Association thinks that the incident was unclear, [we] question whether the company was using the reason of ‘saving resources’ on the surface, but actually punishing staff members who have different opinions on editorial issues,” a post on the union’s Facebook page said.

Keung Kwok-yuen.
Keung Kwok-yuen. Photo: United International College.

The union has demanded the management and Chong to speak to staff members and explain the incident directly. It will also hold a staff meeting at 6pm on Wednesday evening.

“The operational environment of the newspaper industry is difficult, the company has to actively take on cost-cutting measures. We are left with no alternative but to cut staff – this cut involved business and editorial staff, including top-level staff,” a statement from Ming Pao said.

“The company hopes to get past these difficult times as soon as possible. The editorial policy of Ming Pao remains unchanged.”

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

Timing raises eyebrows

On Wednesday, the newspaper carried a front page report on the Panama Papers documents it acquired from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Aside from his editorial roles, Keung was known for writing a long-term analysis column in the newspaper every Sunday using his pen name On Yu 安裕.

Keung previously worked at TVB and Apple Daily, among others.

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

Frosty welcome

When Chong Tien Siong, a Malaysian journalist, took over as the newspaper’s chief editor in 2014, he was not welcomed in all quarters.

Chong was said to be a close ally of the paper’s boss Tiong Hiew King, a Malaysian Pro-Beijing businessman, and was criticised by the union for allegedly lacking local knowledge.

Chong replaced the popular Kevin Lau Chun-to, the then chief editor. He was first appointed as the executive chief editor in March 2014, and was then appointed as chief editor in October of the same year.

Chong’s office was surrounded by Ming Pao reporters on his first day of arrival, asking him to sign a charter of press freedom. When reporters asked him if Ming Pao would become a pro-government newspaper, Chong said “I don’t know”, saying he was still not the chief editor.

Ming Pao union protest against Chong Tien Siong.
Ming Pao union protest against Chong Tien Siong. Photo: Facebook/Ming Pao Staff Association.

In February last year, Chong decided to change the front page of Ming Pao after midnight, from a report on confidential documents related to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre – already approved by top-level editors – to a story about Alibaba chief Jack Ma.

He later explained the decision was made according to “the logic of news” and the report on the Tiananmen documents was unchanged and still published on other pages. He did not explain what was meant by “the logic of news”.

The decision was criticised by the union, which staged an hour-long “pens down” protest.

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.