More than 90 per cent of Ming Pao's 270-strong editorial staff have signed a petition demanding an explanation from management of the expected appointment of a Malaysian journalist to replace Kevin Lau Chun-to as chief editor, amid fears that the newspaper's editorial independence is under threat.
Ming Pao insiders yesterday revealed that Chong Tien-siong, the former chief editor of Nanyang Siang Pau, is the front runner to succeed Lau. Last night Chong said he had no comment to make when asked whether he was taking up the post.
Earlier, about 30 staff members from the Chinese-language newspaper gathered outside its offices in Chai Wan to read out the petition. They urged management to convene face-to-face talks with staff and to promise to uphold the existing editorial principles of Ming Pao.
The Ming Pao Group responded that it would meet its editorial management this week for "direct communication and an explanation". The statement added that it appointed senior staff based on talent and regardless of their nationalities.
The Ming Pao staff concern group criticised the management's arrangement, saying all editorial staff, instead of only high-end editors, should be allowed to join the staff meeting
Lau, appointed the paper's chief editor in 2012, confirmed on Monday that he would be assuming a new position within Ming Pao Group's electronic books and teaching materials division.
"Our editorial colleagues find the news shocking and incomprehensible," said Sin Wan-kei, a member of the newly established Ming Pao staff concern group.
"The chief editor not only leads the newsroom in reporting, but more importantly in resisting pressure from the invisible hands who try to meddle in the newsroom at critical moments.
"We know nothing about the future chief editor, including his background and values. We are not even sure if he will help us to fight against the interference," she added.
The paper's deputy chief editor Dominic Lau Chung-yeung signed the petition.
Chong has worked at Sin Chew Daily newspaper and Yazhou Zhoukan magazine, both owned by Media Chinese International, parent company of Ming Pao. In 2009, he struck a deal with pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper to feature its content within Nanyang Siang Pau.
He also expressed support for the introduction of national education in an article published in Yazhou Zhoukan.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association and Journalism Educators for Press Freedom questioned the rationale behind Lau's removal. Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, publisher and deputy editor of Ming Pao in the '80s, said the newspaper was on the wrong path if Lau's removal was linked to reporting on the free-to-air television licence saga.