A company registered in the British Virgin Islands is backing the latest entrant into Hong Kong's crowded newspaper scene, sparking questions about its motives in a market where it risks big losses.
Organisers of the Hong Kong Morning News insist it has no links with the mainland.
"Hong Kong needs a balanced paper with credibility amid this media ecology," they said yesterday in a statement co-signed by Wong Yeung-ng, former editor in chief of the Oriental Daily News.
But Chinese University journalism professor Clement So York-kee said he was surprised by the venture.
"There are no economic incentives to invest in a new paper as the market for both paid and free papers is saturated. The future will be very bleak," he said, adding that it was tempting to speculate there was a non-economic mission.
Reports of the new venture have been circulating for some time, but there had been no confirmation before yesterday's statement.
The statement rebutted accusations it was mainland-backed, saying the paper, formed by a group of veteran journalists, was financed by local funds with no mainland connections. The signatories said they regretted reports that mixed them up with leftist papers.
It was not clear yesterday when the paper would be launched or if it would be free.
According to the company registry, Hong Kong Morning News Media Group Limited was formed on November 26 with a share capital of HK$10,000 divided into 10,000 shares.
Last month, 9,999 shares were issued to Kwok Way Holding Limited, a BVI registered company. The only director is Lei Iun-han, who has a registered address in Hong Lok Yuen.
Wong served 81 days in Stanley Prison after being convicted in 1998 of insulting the judiciary, including sending paparazzi to monitor the activity of former judge Gerald Godfrey. The paper was also fined HK$5 million.
The new paper comes at a time of concern over the stability of advertising revenue and perceived threats to press freedom.
Free papers blossomed until last year, when the Apple Daily-run Sharp Daily folded in the face of intense competition for shrinking revenue.
The last broadsheet Chinese newspaper established was The Sun under the Oriental Press Group 15 years ago in apparent competition with Apple Daily. Hong Kong has 55 registered newspapers.