Activists and hosts of the city's first digital radio broadcaster began a three day sit-in yesterday in front of the government headquarters.
Digital Broadcasting Corporation was forced to go off air after a shareholders' row, with host Albert Cheng Kin-hon calling the dispute "politically motivated".
Speakers at the protest said the station's imminent closure was a result of political suppression. "This is not an internal row," said co-host Peter Lam Yuk-wah. The station was not in financial difficulty before the shareholders stopped injecting capital, he said.
Cheng vowed on stage last night that he would continue to solicit public donations to fight the legal disputes and find ways for the station to keep operating.
Another host, Lai Chak-fun, said the incident reflected the state of press freedom in Hong Kong, where dissident views were suppressed by commercial means because most of the mainstream press was controlled by tycoons with ties to Beijing.
Lai told several hundred supporters that there was concrete proof of political interference in the company row that crippled the broadcaster. Lam said later that 8,000 people had joined the sit-in. Police said by 9pm 3,200 had taken part.
The protest will last until tomorrow, the seventh day of a "voluntary broadcasting campaign" to keep the station on air in compliance with licensing rules. DBC was warned on Monday that it may have breached its licensing conditions for failing to broadcast its seven channels 24 hours a day last week.
This week the High Court granted an application by the major shareholder, Bill Wong Cho-bau, to appoint two accountants to take over the station.
Wong has refused to top up cash for the station, which began operating fully in May. Then the Beijing loyalist filed a writ over the station's bookkeeping.
Cheng has accused Wong of helping the central government silence dissident views - often heard on DBC channels.
The city's first digital broadcaster ran out of operating capital after Wong allegedly reneged on an agreement to inject an additional HK$50 million. Cheng claimed that Wong had refused to invest more in the station after receiving instructions from an official at the central government's liaison office in the city. Wong has maintained his moves were based entirely on business considerations.
In 2008, Cheng was granted a 12-year licence to run a 24-hour Cantonese-language radio station, with an investment in the first six years estimated at HK$620 million. A former lawmaker, he made a name for himself hosting Commercial Radio's Teacup in a Storm programme from 1995 to 2004, which often criticised the government.