DBC conversation tape doesn't prove interference, says minister

Recording of shareholder being told not to hire government critic doesn't prove station a victim of political meddling, says Greg So

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 2:55am

A recording - offered as proof of Beijing's interference in a Hong Kong broadcaster - is far from conclusive evidence of any such meddling, the commerce secretary said yesterday. He acknowledged having heard the clip last month.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation, Albert Cheng King-hon, played the recording for him. It has since been heard by thousands on the internet.

"We would not comment on something that was someone commenting on someone's opinion," So said yesterday. "I was not a participant in this meeting that was recorded. I don't know the authenticity of it." He was speaking after a meeting of the Legislative Council's panel on information technology and broadcasting, held to discuss the DBC issue.

In the meeting So stopped short of saying whether he thought the station's operations had been interfered with by the central government. The content of the recording and the station's funding problems were "two separate issues", he said. Pan-democratic panel members and DBC representatives accused him of being indifferent to the broadcaster's fate.

The city's first digital broadcaster, DBC was forced to stop producing original programming recently after running out of cash following a row between shareholders. DBC has been mired in financial woes following a boardroom feud between founder Cheng and key shareholder Bill Wong Cho-bau, a Beijing loyalist who withheld an investment of HK$50 million in the station.

Activists say the recording proves the station was a victim of political interference. The voice of a man, identified as Wong, can be heard saying that "Ah Peng" had told him the liaison office would not want radio host Lee Wai-ling - a critic of the government - to be hired at the station. The director of the liaison office is Peng Qinghua .

So said Cheng played the clip to him on September 26.

So said Cheng told him the recorded meeting took place in June last year.

So categorised the issue as a "commercial dispute". It would set "a bad example", he said, if the government interfered in disputes between shareholders of media organisations.

But Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a barrister, disagreed with So. "I have been handling commercial disputes for 40 years. I haven't seen anything like this. The shareholder [Wong] refused to sell or buy any shares, or to inject funds. He even, very proactively, impeded the company's operation."

DBC founder Cheng said he was disappointed by So's comments, although he did not have high hopes of action by the government.

By a 9-8 vote the panel passed a motion by People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip to establish a select committee to investigate the matter.

The committee will be set up only if the motion is approved by the House Committee and the full Legislative Council.

Meanwhile, former DBC host Lau Nam-kwong was sent to Queen Mary Hospital after a 132-hour hunger strike outside the government headquarters at Admiralty.