Crusading Hong Kong Editor Chopped

Kevin Lau, the recently-ousted chief editor of the Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao, was said to be fighting for his life in a Hong Kong hospital after being attacked and hacked early this morning.

What Lau has done, although it will never be proven, is to help to open windows on corruption in China that President Xi Jinping is covering with a fig leaf. This is a bigger issue than just Kevin Lau and the attack on him. It deals with the legitimacy of the Chinese government.

Lau was reportedly hacked by cleaver wielding attackers as he walked to his parked car at 10 a.m. The attack has stirred new concerns about press freedom. Lau was demoted from his post in January by the paper’s Malaysian owner amid speculation that the newspaper, known for its aggressive journalism, was pulling in its horns on orders from Beijing.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in a Feb. 12 report on Hong Kong’s press, reported that journalism is under unrelenting pressure from local and Chinese governments, oligarchic owners and thugs employed to beat up reporters and editors.

Speculation over the reasons for the attack on Lau immediately centered around the fact that Ming Pao had cooperated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to research a massive study of capital flight out of China which detailed the specifics of rich and powerful Chinese politicians and their families in spiriting billions of dollars out of the country into offshore accounts in the British Virgin Islands and other shady banking sanctuaries. That would have left Lau at risk of the outraged vivisection of dozens of extremely rich mainland families with the means to contract with triad freelancers to inflict the usual choppings.

“Was Lau the editor behind Ming Pao getting all this secret ICIJ offshore information on the relatives of Chinese leaders and Chinese officials and tycoons owning offshore companies?” asked a journalist who asked to remain nameless. “Was he the driving force behind Ming Pao’s expose on the wealth of relatives of Chinese leaders from ICIJ data, which scooped the South China Morning Post and other papers? Are some powerful people in Beijing displeased with him for that?”

In addition to the capital flight story, under Lau’s leadership Ming Pao broke the story of Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Henry Tang’s undeclared illegal structures below his home. That torpedoed Tang’s bid for the job. It then discovered that C Y Leung, who had rubbished Henry, also had undeclared illegal structures at his home on the Peak.

Ming Pao also gave extensive coverage to the failed bid for a TV license by HKTV – after its principal was invited by a senior government official to apply. There is suspicion that Beijing is unenthusiastic about expanding mass media franchises it cannot directly control.

The removal as chief editor led to protests by journalists who led marches in the city. Sin Wan-kei of the ‘Ming Pao Concern Group’ declared that Lau “resisted pressure from the invisible hands who try to meddle in the newsroom at critical moments.” The majority of Ming Pao’s 270 editorial staff signed a petition demanding an explanation from management and assurances of journalistic integrity. A spokeswoman for the management reiterated media independence for the paper and said there was no change to editorial policy.

Francis Moriarty, the head of the press freedom committee of the Hong Kong Correspondents Club, told Reuters the attack was “shocking” and noted that it came after several less serious attacks on journalists in Hong Kong and just days after a protest over press freedom concerns in the territory.

“This is a serious escalation,” he said.