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Attack on Hong Kong's Ming Pao editor not linked to Beijing

Publication Date : 13-07-2014


The cleaver attack on former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau was likely due to certain news reports that he had overseen, says the man designated as his successor.

But Chong Tien Siong "personally does not think it has to do with Beijing".

"They won't punish a newsman in such a way. They won't want you to die and make you a hero," he says.

There was speculation after the Feb 26 attack that it was payback for Lau's efforts in pursuing investigative reports that had unearthed details of mainland officials' offshore businesses.

Since then, nine people, some with triad links, have been arrested. But the mastermind remains at large.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Chong says his newspaper has been working with the police and passing them relevant articles. "We feel that what happened has to do with certain news reports," he adds, declining to say more while the police investigation continues.

The truth, he believes, will soon emerge. "It is something the government has to deal with. Hong Kong is a place that values media freedom and the pressure to solve the case is high."

Meanwhile, Ming Pao will continue to work with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in running stories on corrupt Chinese officials so long as "there is factual evidence or sources are reliable, it is not defamatory or the risks are low", he adds.

In his first sit-down interview since he replaced Lau as chief editor six months ago, Chong also addressed criticism of his appointment which sparked staff protests and disquiet among media watchers.

The Malaysian was the first foreigner to be considered for the top job at a local Chinese paper here.

That he was picked personally by Ming Pao's owner, Malaysian timber tycoon Tiong Hiew King - who has business interests in China - to replace Lau, who had been in the seat for under two years, was taken by many as a sign that it was a move to please Beijing.

Critics also argued that Chong, given his unfamiliarity with Hong Kong, was an odd fit for the job especially at this tumultuous juncture as the city negotiates for constitutional reform.

Chong, 56, sees it differently: his "distance" as an outsider, he says, gives him a fresh and dispassionate eye in observing developments.

And since becoming Ming Pao's principal executive editor, he says: "I think colleagues have seen that I have not (unnecessarily) interfered in anything."

Chong says his appointment was "natural", given his previous experience as chief editor of Malaysia's Nanyang Siang Pau and as a correspondent for Yazhou Zoukan, both of which are part of the media company that includes Ming Pao.

As for whether Tiong's business interests are served by such a move, Chong says his boss has been investing in China for decades, and has never interfered in Ming Pao since acquiring it in 1995.

"He is someone who greatly respects Chinese culture, and to go from that, to (saying) all this about him, this is the biggest misunderstanding about him."

While dismissing talk that his job is to please Beijing, Chong also says that as a society becomes more complex, as Hong Kong is today, "the media will tend to walk towards different directions - left and right".

While stressing that he intends for Ming Pao to remain "strictly objective", he adds that one of his most important tasks is to ensure adequate distance between his reporters and the events and players that they report on.

"I've been here over 100 days, and my sense is that the vast majority of our colleagues are professionals with a passion for news. They take the responsibility of being a watchdog very seriously. Such ideals, I basically agree with.

"What I require most out of them is objectivity, and how to have a bit more distance with news developments and ensure accuracy, balance, context, distance in their reporting. And I think they basically achieve it."

What is "objective" though may sometimes be difficult to pin down, and Chong is aware that his calls for "objectivity" could be construed by critics as an excuse for censorship.

But he maintains that he is an "open-minded person" who does not meddle with editorial copy - including of commentators critical of him in Ming Pao's own pages. "No problem, as long there is no defamation.
"We believe in expression of different views. Let a hundred flowers bloom."

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