A state media outlet has described resistance to an impending leadership change at Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao as an attempt by the "opposition camp" to spread "persecution mania" in the city.
The "exaggerated" claims that freedom of speech in Hong Kong was under threat were merely a tactic to boost calls for universal suffrage, the official Global Times said in an editorial.
Critics of the plan to replace Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to with Malaysian Chong Tien Siong have suggested it is linked to the Hong Kong newspaper's coverage of a row over free-to-air television licences. Lau moved to a new role with parent company Media Chinese International this week, with Chong, former editor of the group's Nanyang Siang Pau, tipped to take over shortly.
But the Global Times said the row might be a precursor to further attempts to politicise normal day-to-day events in Hong Kong, a trend it blames on intervention in the city's affairs by "the West". "As long as the West continues to involve itself in universal suffrage for Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017 and the opposition camp continues with its fantasy of making dual universal suffrage in a Chinese special administrative region something equivalent to 'national elections' in the West and snubs the central government's authority, Hong Kong's politics will remain complicated and more uncertainties will follow," it said. Several Beijing-linked media have reported "western" influence in Hong Kong affairs in recent months.
The editorial came a day after lawmakers passed a motion expressing concern over freedom of the press and calling for the protection of editorial independence in light of the changes at Ming Pao. The motion was supported by 35 lawmakers, while 11 voted against, including members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
A concern group formed by former Ming Pao staff will protest outside the newspaper's building in Chai Wan on Sunday.