Silent airwaves deepen the despair

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 12:00am

The departure of Allen Lee Peng-fei from the popular Commercial Radio programme Teacup in a Storm will inevitably deepen public feelings of helplessness and anxiety towards the political scene.

If people had been doubtful about the reasons behind the earlier decisions of broadcasters Albert Cheng King-hon and Wong Yuk-man to go off the air this month, they must have smelled a rat when Mr Lee made the same move, albeit from just Teacup, yesterday. He explained that he no longer enjoyed hosting the programme because society had never been so divided. Mr Lee hinted that he had faced growing pressure not to take Cheng's job.

As in the cases of Cheng and Wong, Mr Lee's decision will be a subject of much interpretation and speculation. Many questions will never be answered.

This spate of departures has left a dark cloud over Hong Kong's political and social climate in the aftermath of last year's July 1 march against proposed national security legislation and the government.

For many people, the feel-good factor and hopes for democratic change, which peaked at the district council elections last November, have been choked by Beijing's decision last month to rule out early direct polls - in a heavy-handed manner.

They may have faced up to the cold reality of life in a so-called 'bird cage' democracy since then, but this series of radio talk-show departures will only serve to deepen people's feelings of helplessness in having a say on Hong Kong affairs.

Seen as the voice of the people, or a portion of them, the disappearance of these hosts from public debate will cast a long shadow over the freedom of expression and the media.

Some may argue that the absence of critical voices in phone-in programmes could be conducive to calm and rational debate on public affairs, but the opposite is, perhaps, the truth.

Their departure will widen the political divide in society as Hong Kong enters the sensitive months when rallies and election activities are staged.

Discontent over political development will increase in the pro-democracy camp. They will find there are fewer channels to air their grievances.

Their rivals will take these departures with a pinch of salt and dismiss claims about damage to free expression.

But the public will feel more confused and depressed as society appears to have lost its direction, and some of its core values, such as freedom of expression, are in the balance.