Hong Kong journalists' groups have lambasted the sacking of a Ming Pao newspaper's top editor by parent company Ming Pao Enterprise Corporation Ltd, owned by Sarawak's Rimbunan Hijau tycoon Tiong Hiew King.
They are calling it part of "worrying developments in Hong Kong’s media".
The groups said this in an open letter to Tiong who is executive chairperson of Ming Pao Enterprise Corporation Ltd, which operates the news daily in the former British colony and distributes it in several North American cities.
"The recent sudden dismissal of executive chief editor Keung Kwok Yuen is a matter of great concern to the news industry and to society as a whole. It not only reflects changes in your newspaper’s overall direction and human resources policies, but also worrying developments in Hong Kong’s media.
"We, members of eight news industry organisations, made up of practitioners of local and international news media and educational institutions, cherish Hong Kong and its press freedom, as do many others in our industry," read the groups' message to Tiong.
The groups argued that the way Keung was dismissed can be seen to be crude, and together with the previous shunting off of fellow editor Kevin Lau from the news department may lead people to suspect that Ming Pao is destroying its own achievements.
"The method and manner of dismissal of Keung Kwok Yuen was brutish and crude; his handling of the blank protest columns in the newspaper was an abuse of power – making staff angry and causing readers to lament," they warned.
They also said that while the paper has an able and willing body of editorial staff, it will be hard for others less suited and experienced than Keung to command their respect or to lead them, adding that this may will make Ming Pao lose direction and readership, harming Tiong's business, instead of being in benefit.
The groups argued that Ming Pao has a proud tradition as a newspaper founded and embraced by intellectuals and it is the reason why readers treasure the newspaper.
They noted that in recent years, some in Hong Kong believe that by bowing before authority and following their directions may lead to fame and fortune.
"Yet history has taught us that people or institutions that cater to the rich and powerful often meet a singular fate – they are tossed aside when they are no longer useful.
"In the end they will be tossed aside like worn-out shoes. The wider readership does not want Ming Pao to become a pair of worn-out shoes and we hope that you can maintain your integrity," they said.
Explain details behind dismissal
The groups also demanded that Tiong explain the details behind Keung's sudden dismissal, reinstate Keung to stabilise morale in the editorial department and that Ming Pao management discuss with the staff on its so-called cost cutting plan.
The eight signatories are the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Independent Commentators Association, Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, International Federation of Journalists, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, RTHK Programme Staff Union and the Next Media Trade Union.
According to news reports, Keung was fired one day after Ming Pao ran a front-page story on how the city’s wealthy and politically connected, including former officials and movie stars, used Panama's legal firm Mossack Fonseca, of Panama Papers leak fame, to divert money into offshore accounts.
The paper said that Keung was let go as part of a cost-cutting drive but the timing of the move has press freedom advocates screaming that it is meddling with free speech by authorities.
Tiong is the brother Tiong Thai King, who is BN's Dudong candidate in the coming Sarawak polls.