What next after SCMP's top-level changes?

November 09, 2015 15:41
Tammy Tam (left) is said to have strong ties to Beijing's Liaison Office and is known to be a fan of CY Leung (rght). Photos:  HKEJ, internet

In her first column after being promoted to editor of SCMP starting next year, Tammy Tam did not write about the historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou.

Instead, she discussed Hong Kong’s role in the 13th Five-Year Plan.

We were not sure what to make of the article which meandered through a lengthy, confused intro and segued into a famous quote from former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa (“When Hong Kong prospers, the country will benefit; when the country prospers, Hong Kong will benefit more.”)

The article ignited the SCMP website's chat room.

In January, Tam will succeed Wang Xiangwei who has led Hong Kong's largest English-language broadsheet for four years, according to an internal memo on Friday.

We got to know about the change through social media after an insider posted the announcement on Twitter.

Tam is best remembered for a story about the purported death of former president Jiang Zemin in 2011 when she was news controller of ATV.

Less than four years later, after emerging from a health scare, Tam was named deputy editor of SCMP.

Like Wang, the paper's first mainland-born editor who became its longest-serving chief, Tam faced skepticism for her editorial stance.

She has close ties to Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong and is said to have a penchant for "sticking CY Leung's picture on everything". 

Insiders say she often asked the political desk to run pro-government stories on top of her numerous bylined articles favorable to Leung who is widely expected to run for a second term in 2017.

The relentless media scrutiny of her politics and past editorial positions will make it tough for her to manage a newspaper accused of having lost its way in a politically explosive time, according to observers.

Tam, however, is seen as a transitional figure who is expected to build on Wang’s legacy. (Wang, a trusted lieutenant of the Kuoks, will serve as an editorial adviser based in Beijing).

The question is who will lead the paper after?

Some former Post colleagues say Chow Chung-yan, who will be appointed executive editor, will go on to become editor.

Kunming-born Chow joined as a cadet in 1999 and has risen through the ranks.

His name appears in the staff box above that of the more senior Brian Rhoads who led an influx of journalists from Reuters.

A Wang protege, Chow has a clear path to promotion, especially after the departure of an ambitious Shanghai editor reportedly to join the Hong Kong operation of Facebook.

But Chow could face competition from Zuraidah Ibrahim, who has been promoted to chief news editor.

Ibrahim previously led the international desk and reported directly to Tam.

Ibrahim, who comes from a prominent Singapore family, joined the Post last year after serving as deputy editor of Straits Times in charge of local news and politics.

A government critic, Ibrahim was brought along by chief executive Robin Hu, according to insiders.

Ibrahim's husband Cherian George teaches journalism at Baptist University.

The only non-Asian in the slew of promotions is Brett McKeehan, formerly editor of SCMP.com. He takes charge of the digital newsroom.

Jonathan Standing, who stepped in as acting business editor succeeding Nick Edwards, remains in that role.

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EJ Insight writer