Assert authority. That’s a Hong Kong newspaper editor’s idea of damage control after his decision to swap a main story at literally the eleventh hour angered his staff.
In a statement published to Ming Pao’s website on Tuesday, chief Chong Tien Siong said that the publication “always doesn’t take sides,” and that the chief editor has the “power and responsibilities to make lead story changes.” Chong added that the “June Fourth Incident” article was published without corrections in the same issue.
Chong was responding to concerns raised by his staff.
The staff of Ming Pao—a respected Chinese language broadsheet known for its serious reporting—had asked their chief editor to explain his arbitrary decision to replace the top story in a statement on Monday.
Earlier Sunday evening, the editorial team agreed that a story on just released Canadian embassy memos that deal with the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which reporters had spent days working on, would be the lead article. Although Chong was on leave, he sat in the editorial meeting but didn’t oppose anything.
However, at about 11:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. Eastern time), Chong insisted that a story on Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group be made the lead instead. The Canadian memo Tiananmen story was instead pushed to page three on Monday’s paper.
The Canadian documents are invaluable, news veteran Ching Cheong told Epoch Times, because they could serve as evidence that people were really killed during the June Fourth incident, a fact that the Chinese regime still denies and censors. In light of its historic significance and implications today, Ching continues, the Ming Pao report is hence significant.
Ching was working as a journalist in Beijing until the eve of the June Fourth incident. Ming Pao reporters sought his opinion in their Tiananmen report.
Pro-democracy lawmakers slammed Chong’s decision, and held him accountable to Ming Pao readers and staff. The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association also felt that the chief editor did not properly communicate with his staff, and failed to respect the editorial department’s system.
“If the entire editorial staff of the newspaper thought that [the Tiananmen article] was a good story,” Ming Pao union leader Chum Shun-kin told Radio Free Asia, “why is he unilaterally ignoring them?”
Chong may have “the right to change the front page” as chief editor, said Chum, but “the question is, whether it was reasonable to do so.”
On Tuesday evening, about 80 Ming Pao staff held an hour-long “cease writing” demonstration outside their office building. The staff held up their pens to show support for press freedom before placing them on the ground to protest Chong’s decision and lack of response.
Indeed, Chong had refused all interview requests on Monday because he was supposedly on holiday and not due at work.
And the fact that the chief editor can show up for work when he’s not supposed to, make a crucial editorial decision, and then take off again once the deed was done, Ming Pao staff told Apple Daily, only adds to the suspicion that there are unseen, external forces behind’s their chief editor’s action.
At the time of writing, Ming Pao staff have not yet replied Chong’s Tuesday statement.