Hong Kong daily Ming Pao at centre of rare journalist protest to bring back fired editor

Journalists ask management to bring back Keung Kwok-yuen in exchange of reducing their pay and benefits.

A rare staff revolt is shaking HongKong 's Ming Pao daily, one of the most prestigious publications in the city. On Wednesday, three columnists submitted blank columns in the newspaper in protest against the sacking of the top editor.

Keung Kwok-yuen, the Executive Chief Editor, was abruptly fired from his job to cut costs, according to the management.

Last week, the paper had published front page stories on the Panama Papers leak linking the local tycoons, politicians and celebrities with a law firm at the centre of the scandal. The announcement of the unexpected firing was made on the same date of the Panama Papers leak story.

But the employees of the organisation believe the sacking of the editor was a punitive measure.

The association told BBC: "Mr Keung is a veteran journalist who has spearheaded the coverage of major controversies in Hong Kong in the past decades. The 2003 rally against the national security law, the 2012 campaign against national education, and the death of mainland political dissident Li Wang-yan are some of those notable cases which he worked on." They referred to him as the "soul" of the news team.

In Ming Pao's Sunday Life section, the paper had left blank spaces by several eminent writers with just headlines criticising the decision to sack Keung.

Again, some of the employees have told BBC that they think that the firing was linked to the upcoming HongKong elections and not because of the Panama Papers exposure.

September elections

Since the pro-democracy protests of 2014, this is going to be the first city-wide election in HongKong. People will vote to elect their new representatives.

The "Umbrella Movement" had inspired a number of young protesters who had no prior experience in politics to fight the elections and many of them have succeeded in winning district-level polls. Some more of these motivated "Umbrella Soldiers" will be fighting in the upcoming September elections for the first time.

In spite of being new bees in this segment, some of these groups have proved themselves by showing their practical and radical views compared to that of the traditional pro-democracy candidates.

"If a lot of these young candidates win, it is likely to affect who the Chinese government picks for the role of chief executive next year," a Ming Pao staff said.

Ming Pao, one of the most influential dailies in HongKong, was undergoing continuous pressure from the authorities "to toe the line during a politically sensitive period".

Recently, the staffers attended the annual Hong Kong News Awards organized by the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong where Ming Pao won 15 awards. All of them dressed in black to protest against their editor's firing and to give it an extra level of importance.

Next day, the paper's front page published a large photo of the group protesting for their editor.

Bruce Lui, a columnist for the paper, also agrees with the employers' take on the firing. BBC reports that "he believes the editor-in-chief, Chong Tien Siong, was asked by management to rein in the outspoken newspaper when he was appointed in 2014, but has failed to do so, in part due to Mr Keung."

After receiving such allegations, BBC tried to contact Chong and the Ming Pao management. But they have declined to comment on these.

Ming Pao management has maintained their comment and said that this decision is strictly an operational one and it has nothing to do with the editor's decisions.

But the unions are not ready to accept this explanation and they have demanded to meet the top management in order to discuss this issue. They have also proposed an unsual offer to the management -- they want the management to bring back Keung in exchange of reducing their pay and benefits.

The association is ready to continue this protest if they don't receive a proper explanation from the Ming Pao management.