Government should investigate DBC Radio saga

Albert Cheng says the government must investigate the DBC Radio saga; it goes to the heart of basic freedoms and digital broadcasting policy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 9:30am

DBC Radio's special week-long broadcast, initiated by its former hosts and staff after its official closure last week, might come to an end sooner than expected following an application to the High Court by some shareholders to put the company into liquidation.

On Wednesday, the court approved an application by major shareholder Wong Cho-bau to appoint two accountants from Deloitte to act as an administrator.

But the fight to stay on air continues. Some former employees and supporters have launched a "revival campaign" and are planning to stage gatherings round-the-clock at the government headquarters at Tamar from today to Sunday. They hope to force the administration to intervene and investigate the matter.

The radio station, which had its soft launch in September last year, stopped broadcasting last Wednesday because of a funding shortage.

The reason DBC's supporters want the government to intervene is because they believe the closure was not merely the result of a squabble between shareholders, or a commercial dispute. They believe it concerns Hong Kong's freedom of broadcasting and the preservation of our fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and expression.

Although DBC Radio is a private company, it has provided mainly public broadcasting services. So, in many ways, it has served as a public service provider. In other words, it is different from other commercial organisations. Its operation is guided by licensing terms covered in a broadcasting licence issued by the government.

The operations of public service providers, including utility companies, directly affect the public. Therefore, if any of them goes bankrupt, the government is duty-bound to intervene for the sake of public interest. Thus, it has a responsibility to resolve the case of DBC Radio.

The station has built up a reasonable audience base, both locally and overseas.

The government, as a regulator, cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the DBC feud because it is threatening the quality of broadcasting in Hong Kong. The government should find out why some shareholders decided not to continue to invest in the company. Was their decision politically motivated?

The fate of DBC Radio concerns the future development of digital broadcasting in Hong Kong and the government's digital broadcasting policy in the long term. A new broadcasting model was supposed to become mainstream and a potential pillar industry of the future.

Since it touches upon the development of a new industry, the government's digital broadcasting policy and employment opportunities, among other issues, commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung should address the matter.

The saga has highlighted the fact that, even though we are all supposed to be equal before the law, in fact the rich and powerful always have a huge advantage in litigation matters in which they are able to afford the best legal representation.

Another disturbing fact is the less than lukewarm reaction from the general media with regard to the whole saga. They have written off the matter as a commercial dispute and questioned the viability of digital broadcasting in Hong Kong, rather than getting to the bottom of the matter.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator and founder of DBC Radio