Views on free speech 'deeply disturbing'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2002, 12:00am

I refer to the letter from the head of RTHK's English Programme Service, Richard Tsang, headlined 'Excellent response from listeners' (South China Morning Post, June 14).

I found his views on what constitutes free speech for the expatriate community deeply disturbing.

According to him, it is all right for RTHK Radio 3, unlike its Chinese-language counterparts, to decide the topic of debate listeners may address in phone-in programmes. This is despite the fact that the former Open Line programme was famed for decades for its listener response and the general public interest it aroused.

Freedom of speech is as important in the expatriate community as anywhere else in Hong Kong. Whereas expatriates are marginalised in many Asian societies, in Hong Kong this is not so, not only because of the colonial past but also because Hong Kong by definition is open to the world.

Until recently there were two great forums in Hong Kong whereby the expatriate community could foster debate - the 'Letters to the Editor' columns of this newspaper and Radio 3's Open Line.

I wonder what your readers would think of a 'Letters' page where they were forbidden from addressing any particular topic in any particular week. But this is the reality now on Radio 3 and it is simply no argument to state there have been hundreds of topics of debate in the Backchat programmes. Nor is it an argument to suggest that the station is 'open to a choice of topics'. How can we monitor that in any case? How would we know? Accountability means open accountability, not a blind trust of those in power.

The essence of free speech is the ability to say what you want, when you want, not to have the medium of operation deciding what you can say on any particular day. I call on the authorities at RTHK to restore the Open Line programme on Radio 3 and to preserve the parity of opportunity for debate it previously enjoyed with the Chinese channels.

To do anything else looks like discrimination and the suppression of free speech.