The fight to reverse Ming Pao's decision to replace its chief editor with a Singapore-based Malaysian has stepped up a notch, with a teachers' union urging its 90,000 members to sign a petition against the move.
The Professional Teachers' Union said yesterday it would launch the petition to pile pressure on management at the embattled Chinese-language newspaper, a popular pick for Hong Kong classrooms, after it announced plans to move chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to to another job.
It called on the management to make a public pledge of respect for editorial independence at one of the few newspapers traditionally considered neutral in the debate between Beijing loyalists and pan-democrats.
"For many years, Ming Pao ... has been one of the newspapers that can gain access to schools. It's a paper of teachers, as well as a paper of students," the union said. Union president Dr Fung Wai-wah estimated that between 100 and 200 copies of the daily circulated in each of Hong Kong's schools. But he said there were no plans yet to ask for a boycott of subscriptions.
The union asked whether the likely successor - Chong Tien Siong, former editor of Malaysian paper Nanyang Siang Pau, part of the Media Chinese International group that controls Ming Pao - would have the relevant knowledge to run a paper that offers an important source of local news to teachers and pupils.
Lau, who will move to a new-media post, has admitted he believed a Hongkonger would be best equipped for the job.
More than 90 per cent of Ming Pao's 270-strong editorial staff have signed a petition demanding management explain the expected appointment of Chong.
The move has escalated concerns about the newspaper's editorial independence, amid suggestions it was linked to its coverage of a row over free-to-air television broadcasting licences.
In the midst of the row, the owner of free Chinese-language newspaper am730, property heavyweight Shih Wing-ching, stoked concern about editorial interference when he complained of the sudden withdrawal of advertising by "mainland-backed companies". His newspaper, which is printed by SCMP Group, is considered critical of the government.