Cheung Kin-por has taken over as chief editor of Ming Pao, replacing Kevin Lau Chun-to, in a sudden move believed related to a protest action by columnists.
Cheung, the former chief editor and current editorial director, will run the paper for at least two weeks until Chong Tien-siong, the former chief editor of Malaysia's Nanyang Siang Pau, arrives to take up the post. Chong's work visa is still being processed.
Analysts believe the move was due to Lau having allowed the paper to run blank spaces meant for columnists since last week. There were four such blank spaces in yesterday's edition.
A staff concern group last night expressed regret over the company's decision, which came after employee representatives and senior management continued to tussle over the decision to bring in Chong.
Ming Pao announced that Cheung will be chief editor until further notice, while Lau will be transferred to another post responsible for the group's online business affairs.
Ming Pao is owned by Malaysian timber tycoon Tiong Hiew-king.
A spokeswoman for the staff concern group, Sin Wan-kay, said: "According to management, Cheung will take up the chief editor's post for two weeks, or even two or three months, until Chong takes up the post." Cheung said Tiong has always upheld press freedom. "Tiong has pledged that there will be no change in editorial direction, whoever serves as chief editor, including Chong."
Lau, meanwhile, wrote in the paper that it would not intervene with the columnists' freedom to express themselves.
Among the four whose columns were just blank spaces yesterday were Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling and Ng Chi-sum.
Lau also wrote that he hopes staff and management can "narrow their differences and pacify the situation."
Civil Party's Alan Leong Kah-kit is set to raise a motion urging local media to safeguard editorial independence and autonomy in the Legislative Council tomorrow.