Media pundits form free speech group

Former government minister is among a dozen commentators joining group to safeguard press freedom amid perceived pressure from Beijing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 3:37am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 5:38pm

A former top government adviser and an ex-minister are among a dozen media pundits who will form a concern group this week to stand up against what they see as "narrowing" scope for freedom of speech.

The Independent Commentators Association was formed in the wake of a row over the sacking of outspoken Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling, said Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a co-founder of the group. Its members will join Sunday's press freedom march organised by the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

Besides Lui, a Baptist University journalism lecturer, founding members include former commerce and civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping, and Allen Lee Peng-fei, a former Executive Council member. Wong is a newspaper columnist and radio host, while Lee hosts political television shows for RTHK.

Wong said he hoped to bring commentators with no political or commercial affiliation together to stand up when faced with crises and to promote press freedom. Even without concrete evidence, Wong said, concern was growing that the government was suppressing the media.

"I hope to create a platform for professional commentators to discuss, and contribute to, safeguarding freedom of the press and of speech," Wong said.

The idea was first floated several months ago by Wong and Ching Cheong, the Straits Times correspondent once jailed as a spy on the mainland. The group successfully registered as a business with the Companies Registry on Wednesday. The smooth registration surprised Lui, who said he had been told Beijing was "keeping an eye on the group".

Other members include Li's former co-host Elizabeth Wong Kit-wai and Commercial Radio host, Poon Siu-to, whom Li has tipped to be next to face the axe due to criticism of Beijing.

Journalists from newspapers Ming Pao and AM730, and Next Magazine, have also joined.

Reports of a loss of advertising at AM730 and Next Magazine's sister newspaper, Apple Daily, have led to concerns Beijing-linked companies are exerting pressure on media outlets.

Wong, whose portfolio at the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau included broadcasting, said the government had not done enough to ease the media's concerns.

"Leung said only that he and the government 'respect' freedom of the press. He didn't say he would do anything to safeguard it," Wong said, adding that the chief executive had undermined his claim to support press freedom by sending a legal letter to a newspaper columnist last year.

"He also could have asked his cabinet members to appear on critical programmes to listen to public views more regularly, so as to be seen to be protecting freedom of the press," Wong added.