Beijing 'used radio investor to dim free speech'
Peter So and Tanna Chong
Businessman Wong Cho-bau was attacking free speech in Hong Kong at Beijing's behest when he decided to force the new Digital Broadcasting Corporation (DBC) off the air, said DBC co-founder Albert Cheng King-hon yesterday.
Cheng said Wong, a Beijing loyalist, had refused to invest more in the station after receiving instructions from an official at the central government's liaison office in the city, whom he did not name.
The outspoken political critic, who is also known as 'Taipan', said Wong had told him: 'I have a mission: the liaison office wants you off the air.'
'Wong told me and my friends in private about this on more than one occasion,' Cheng said, adding that he had not been contacted directly by any liaison office officials.
As Wong and other shareholders have stopped funding the station, it will close on the 10th next month, and its digital broadcasting licence might be revoked if its assets are liquidated or it fails to provide the required public broadcasting services, according to Cheng.
A spokesman for Wong said he was abroad and declined to comment.
'It is government policy to promote digital radio broadcasting. However, it is not the government's role to intervene in internal operations, or in the distribution of shares,' Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So Kam-leung told RTHK. His portfolio includes broadcasting.
So said the dispute was among the shareholders. The controversy, he said, was not related to freedom of speech and the government would not intervene as long as DBC could maintain its services. Since it was granted a 12-year licence to run digital radio channels in 2008, DBC has attracted HK$150 million in investments. It started full operations in May.
However, Wong and other shareholders - who control half of the shares - said on Thursday that they had decided against making further investment 'purely out of business considerations'.
They said they were willing to consider 'reasonable offers from eligible investors', but Cheng said he could not afford to buy them out.
Cheng yesterday told RTHK that Wong, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, had undermined the city's freedom of speech by refusing to increase his investment.
He also said that Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, one of the shareholders and an executive councillor, was present when Wong told them about Beijing's instructions and did not object.
Wong came to the public's attention for offering a bargain lease on a luxury Shenzhen penthouse to the then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
Cheng said dismissal letters had been sent to the station's staff.
Peter Lam Yuk-wa, who co-hosts a phone-in programe with Cheng, said the letters, which outlined DBC's problems, said that operations would cease on September 10 if the matter remained unresolved.
Luisa Tam, a freelance radio producer and host of a midnight programme, said DBC's funding woes were politically motivated. 'We will continue to produce the show as long as the station remains,' Tam said.
The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor has expressed concern over what it saw as an apparent political move to suppress DBC.