A letter issued by the Facebook page “Bring Back Joseph Lian” on Monday has questioned the decision of local newspaper Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) to cancel veteran political commentator Joseph Lian Yi-zheng’s column.
The letter, signed by “a group of current and former employees who treasure HKEJ,” demanded that the paper’s editor-in-chief Alice Kwok Yim-ming revoke the cancellation of Lian’s column and explain the decision.
The letter questioned the management of HKEJ’s editorial prior to the Legislative Council election, saying the timing draws suspicion that the decision to remove Lian’s column is politically motivated and that it might be an act to “silence [Lian] under the command of individuals in power.”
“Both the employees and readers of HKEJ understand Lian’s significance and status,” said the writer. “[Lian’s] commentary is precise, independent and outspoken, with every [word] hitting the weak points of the individuals in power. His commentary is greatly influential to society and to the political circle,” the writer added.
The writer also said that the decision to remove Lian’s column is difficult to understand both in terms of the paper’s reputation and commercial interests, as Lian’s articles consistently received high readership alongside other famed columnists working under HKEJ.
The writer said that in spite of Lian’s contribution to HKEJ, the veteran columnist was not given a contract renewal for a period of time, and his articles were given less exposure on the internet.
The writer followed the statement with a rhetorical question, asking what kind of editor-in-chief would consider cancelling a column that had been consistently ranked among the ten most viewed publications of its kind in Hong Kong.
Formerly the HKEJ’s editor-in-chief, Lian has been writing irregularly for the newspaper since 2010.
In recent years, Lian has become known for expressing sympathy towards the Hong Kong localist movement. Last October, he called the Hong Kong Government a “foreign regime” in an essay published in Hong Kong University magazine Undergrad.
In 2004, Lian was dismissed from the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, a body responsible for advising the Chief Executive, after reportedly falling out with the administration and participating in street demonstrations against then-leader Tung Chee-hwa.
Kwok was appointed as HKEJ’s editor-in-chief in August 2013. Her tenure began controversially, with the resignation of columnist Yau Ching-yuen alongside three reporters that October.
Founded in 1973, the HKEJ is owned by tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai, who invested in the newspaper in 2006.