Chong Tien Siong, the controversial chief editor of Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, will leave the publication at the end of the year. The sudden announcement came after several major controversies at the daily since he took on the position in 2014.

An internal notice from the paper confirmed that Chong will be replaced by Executive Chief Editor Leung Heung-nam by New Year’s Day. The notice did not mention the reason behind Chong’s departure.

Chief Editor Chong Tien Siong questioned by staff.
Chief Editor Chong Tien Siong questioned by staff after sacking the newspaper’s popular executive chief editor. File Photo: Ming Pao Staff Association.

Chong, originally from Malaysia, was appointed chief editor in 2014 but was not welcomed by staff members. 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 newspaper’s staff 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
Ming Pao, 2 February 2015. Photo: Screenshot.

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 was 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.

Keung Kwok-yuen
Protest after sacking of former Ming Pao executive chief editor Keung Kwok-yuen. Photo: Ming Pao Staff Association.

The most recent controversy involving Chong was in April, when he fired former executive chief editor Keung Kwok-yuen, who was popular among the paper’s editorial staff. Keung was better known as On Yu – his pen name – for writing weekly, long analytical articles in the paper’s Sunday supplement pages.

Keung was fired on April 20 at midnight – the same day the paper published a front page story analysing the Panama Papers and the Hong Kong politicians and businessmen named in the documents. The paper claimed that Keung’s dismissal was a cost-saving measure.

Ming Pao printed three empty columns on Sunday April 24.
Ming Pao printed three empty columns on Sunday April 24.

Following the sacking, hundreds of protesters including reporters, activists and public figures demonstrated against Keung’s termination. Empty columns appeared in the newspaper for at least four consecutive days in protest of Keung’s sacking.

Ming Pao’s management later announced that Leung Heung-nam – vice-executive chief editor at the time – was appointed to replace Keung, after accepting the recommendations from the editorial department. Leung was said to have a similar news management style to Keung.

The internal notice on Friday also stated that Leung was appointed as a member of the Group Executive Committee of the Media Chinese International Limited, which is Ming Pao’s parent company. Ong See Boon, an incumbent member of the committee and Special Assistant to the group’s chairman, will retire.

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.