Silencing the voices of dissent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 3:50pm

It was not a happy return when Wong Yuk-man resumed his talk show at Commercial Radio after a three-month absence, reportedly because of political pressure, last year.

He lost his prime airtime slot, between 6pm and 8pm Monday to Friday. Instead, he was given a slot late on Saturday nights - when many people are not listening to the radio.

Some media friends said they were glad and relieved Mr Wong's solo show would continue - even in the margins of weekly airtime - given their anxiety over the shrinking room for political dissent in the media.

Privately, friends and foes ridiculed Wong for being too soft when he accepted the unpopular time slot.

A break-up in his long-time relationship with the commercial broadcaster was merely a matter of time, they said.

'What needs to happen will eventually happen,' he said on Sunday.

If Wong accepted the marginal time slot last year, it was because it was a 'take it or leave it' deal. Rejecting it would in effect have ended his career as a talk-show host.

As Robert Chow Yung, host of an RTHK phone-in programme, said on Monday, it was unlikely the government-run broadcaster or Metro News would hire Wong.

In view of the circumstances behind the drama of the 'off-air, on-air' controversy last year, Wong's departure comes as no surprise.

It may remain a subject of fierce debate on phone-in programmes. Like former talk-show host Albert Cheng King-hon, who left the public airwaves last year, Wong's unique approach and style in making points on contentious issues will be noted in history.

His contribution will be remembered vividly in some quarters of Hong Kong society where - rightly or wrongly - he is seen as a symbol of free speech.

Many radio listeners, including his fans, may not agree with everything he said. But they see him as a voice of dissent representing one end of the broad political spectrum in Hong Kong.

Wong's departure will inevitably generate a feeling of unease and helplessness about the shrinking opportunities available for the expression of free, pluralistic views.

As he has said, the row could be construed as a contractual dispute between an employee and employer, which happens on a daily basis in the commercial world.

The stir that the case has caused reflects the feeling of doom and gloom within some segments of the media - and the community at large - about both the tangible and the invisible pressures on those airing views deemed to be politically incorrect.

Shortly after the 500,000-strong protest two years ago, the rumour spread that mainland authorities would move to tame the influence of anti-government voices, including Mr Cheng and Wong.

Two years on, the power of radio to shape and lead the public agenda has been severely curtailed by, among other factors, the departure of star talk-show hosts.

Amid the hype about the importance of stability and harmony, dissenting views have been labelled confrontational and detrimental to a harmonious society.

It is academic now, but no less interesting to wonder whether Wong could have kept his job if he had agreed to remain quietly at the margin of the public airwaves.

The narrowing scope for Wong to connect with his audience over the airwaves - before it finally disappeared - is intriguing in a society known for its diversity of views and forms of expression.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large



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