No backing down for fiery radio host amid reshuffle
Li Wei-ling says there is a sense of crisis in the media after a controversial decision to remove her from prime-time slot on Commercial Radio
At 8am on November 15, Li Wei-ling arrived at the studios of Commercial Radio in Kowloon Tong. For the influential and outspoken talk-show host, it began as just another day at the office as she dived into brainstorming how to rattle the cages of government ministers across the harbour.
But Li was soon to realise that it was no ordinary Friday. After the weekend, she would no longer be in charge of On A Clear Day, a show in the prime-time breakfast slot that she had hosted for 16 months. Instead, she would be abruptly bumped to a less prominent slot by the station's recently installed chief executive Stephen Chan Chi-wan.
Li was told she would have to go back to hosting an evening show, The Tipping Point, which she had done for several years after joining Commercial Radio in 2004. After initially feeling dejected about the move, Li says she has now found an even greater sense of purpose in her work.
"Before the row, I had thought about quitting the radio job when I reached the decade milestone, to return to a writing career," says Li, who was previously a Chinese-language print journalist.
"But now, I'm very motivated and feel energised to perfect my career as a [radio] journalist, because I feel an unprecedented sense of crisis and pressure engulfing not just Commercial Radio, but the whole media industry in Hong Kong."
The reshuffle was not wholly unexpected. Li had previously publicly disclosed rumours circulating among high-level government sources that taking her off the air was a precondition for the radio station having its licence renewed in 2016.
Li's belief that the move was political has only strengthened her resolve. Her long-time friend and former co-host Ken Kwok Chi-yan said Li was unlikely to back off. "She is really tough. When she feels she is being bullied, she will stand very firm," said Kwok, who now co-hosts the morning show with Chan.
The episode is reminiscent of rumours that swirled around the station in 2004, when lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man and former legislator Albert Cheng King-hon were sacked and resigned, respectively, from their positions as hosts at the station.
Their departures came about a year after the station had been granted a 12-year extension of its broadcasting licence amid speculation the government preferred only a three-year renewal.
Former chief executive contender Henry Tang Ying-yen alleged last year that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, an Executive Council member in 2003, had masterminded a push for a much shorter renewal. Eyes are now on how Leung and Exco will handle the issuing of Commercial Radio's next licence in the wake of Li being moved, and rumours that the government had sought the move.
Chan, better known as the former general manager of TVB, is widely regarded as more government-friendly than Li, who has not shied away from calling the latest decision of her boss a move "made in a black box".
A good host, Li says, spells out well-reasoned beliefs, rather than just sitting there as a moderator. "If a radio host merely acts as a 'traffic controller', does it really help to strengthen the station's power to question policy?"
Li says the common perception is that criticism creates enemies, but she points out she has many supporters as well.
Few have been as thankful to her as Ching Cheong, the Singapore-based journalist jailed by mainland authorities from 2005 to 2008 after being accused of spying for Taiwan. During his incarceration, Li broadcast a clip for several minutes every day pushing for his release. This went on for 1,000 days before he was freed. After Li was removed from the morning show, Ching wrote a newspaper article asking Hongkongers to rally behind her.
Li started her journalistic career as a newspaper reporter, gradually climbing the ladder to become news chief at Ming Pao, before moving to Apple Daily.
Her critics have dismissed her as unobjective and unprofessional in urging people to join anti-government marches in the city. Li, however, is unfazed.
"Speaking my mind on air, I'm not being subjective, as my claims are based on facts," she says. "I didn't hate Leung from the moment I saw his face; it is a conclusion I arrived at after seeing the bad things he has done."
And what does she think of her replacement? "I've been busy jogging in the mornings, so I don't listen to the radio at that time," Li says. "But the listeners can make up their own minds."
1986 Joins Ming Pao
2001 Joins Apple Daily
2001 Memoir of former Exco convenor Sir Sze-yuen Chung, which she helped write, published
2004 Joins Commercial Radio
2012 Starts hosting On A Clear Day
November 2013 Stops hosting On A Clear Day; starts re-hosting The Tipping Point