Commercial Radio row points to campaign to silence critics

Albert Cheng says politics played a part in decision to sideline an outspoken talk-show host, just as it did in the HKTV controversy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 5:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 2:06am

The licensing controversy over Hong Kong Television Network had not even had time to subside before we were faced with a storm at Commercial Radio.

The storm erupted when Li Wei-ling, the outspoken host of the station's popular morning talk show, On a Clear Day, was removed from her current post and reassigned to a less prominent evening current affairs programme. The move was done without warning or consultation, she said .

Next Magazine reported that she was handpicked for criticism by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during a daily morning briefing of top government officials. The report further claimed that a pro-government figure then warned Li - a well-known government critic - to be careful if she wanted to keep her job. Not long after this warning, Li was informed last Friday that she would be reassigned to a new post.

It's obvious that this programme arrangement was politically motivated. The whole idea was to muffle any dissenting voice at Commercial Radio. Lee's days at the station are no doubt numbered.

History often repeats itself. This sudden job reassignment is similar to what happened to me and Wong Yuk-man a decade ago.

Now, as then, Commercial Radio's troubles stem from the harsh reality that its operating licence is up for renewal. In the face of political pressure, the broadcaster has chosen self-preservation, putting business interests ahead of anything else, even press freedom. In order to keep its licence, Commercial Radio would even kowtow to political pressure.

The only difference is that, in the past, central government leaders were even more bold and direct. Back then, Leung, who was the convenor of the Executive Council, was said to have advised then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to shorten the licensing period for Commercial Radio, though Tung refused to do so.

Today, Leung is in charge and is tasked with reining in the dissenting voices in the local media. At a time when his own popularity ratings have hit rock bottom, following a series of scandals, it's no surprise that Leung is determined to go all out to silence the press.

The high-handed manner in which the government has handled the HKTV licensing issue must have made Commercial Radio realise it's not worth the fight, forcing it to surrender without a struggle.

Sadly, Hong Kong's media has failed to offer full support to safeguard freedom of expression and press freedom. On the contrary, the media has accepted the matter as an ordinary programme arrangement at Commercial Radio.

Our media doesn't seem to realise press freedom and freedom of expression are suffering a slow death, like a frog being slowly boiled alive. How many media organisations do we need to lose before we know we have no voice and no column space to be able to speak out?

To be honest, if Leung really wants to control Commercial Radio, he still has the ultimate weapon. When television services were upgraded from analogue to high-definition, providers of analogue services were phased out. This approach successfully ended the issuing of licences for analogue TV.

In the same way, in the name of upgrading radio services, the government could go full speed ahead to develop digital broadcasting and phase out AM and FM services.

That way, no matter what Commercial Radio does, it still wouldn't be granted a new licence. End of story.

Commercial Radio deputy chairwoman Winnie Yu Tsang once proudly proclaimed that she respected history, cherished the present and believed in the future. It looks more like she is living on past glory, and has failed to see the big changes of the future.

No matter what, Leung seems to have set his sights firmly on suppressing the mainstream media in order to please Beijing or protect his plummeting popularity.

The colossal task of protecting the remnants of press freedom and freedom of expression has been handed to the internet and online media as well as multimedia, all of which are still willing to speak the truth, hear the truth and speak out against injustice.

They have taken on the task of acting as government watchdogs and the fourth estate.

Like the D100 radio station, which I founded, many of us insist on the principles of "speaking the truth, promoting justice and showing mercy to all", as well as acting as an independent voice for Hongkongers.

If we want to see more online and internet media outlets flourish alongside the mainstream media, the public must give this new media their full backing.

It's not only about supporting budding radio stations or online channels, it's about safeguarding our freedom of expression, which is coming under increasing threat.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.