A leaked tape seen as proof that troubled radio station DBC was a victim of political interference from Beijing has sparked renewed controversy over the broadcaster's future.
The tape, understood to be records of conversations between the shareholders of Digital Broadcasting Corporation, was posted on YouTube last night and received more than 11,000 clicks. It was also played by station staff at a rally at government headquarters in Tamar, Admiralty.
The clip, which lasts for just over 4½ minutes, concerns two meetings of DBC directors, one in May last year and the other in February or March this year, a station spokeswoman said.
A man DBC says is shareholder Bill Wong Cho-bau can be heard commenting on a plan to hire Lee Wai-ling, who hosts current affairs talk shows for Commercial Radio and is critical of the government.
"Lee Wai-ling. We have heard her. She is too provocative," the man says. "Ah Peng told me the liaison office is very offended by her." The director of the liaison office is Peng Qinghua.
"If she really comes, and Taipan cannot control her... We don't want to get involved in politics," he adds. Taipan is the nickname of DBC founder Albert Cheng King-hon.
Cheng tells the man the station should not be a "mouthpiece". "I can't say I will control her... I can't do that. We have to keep up editorial autonomy and I have told all the hosts to stand by facts. That's how our credibility stands," he says.
In the second part of the tape, supposedly concerning the meeting this year, the man said to be Bill Wong says he will not invest any more money in the station: "You know why I won't buy it. I'd rather buy an aircraft."
Wong and Cheng were unable to be reached to comment.
DBC said Cheng had received a letter from Wong's lawyers barring him from speaking.
Wong, a Beijing loyalist, has refused to top up cash for the station, which began operating fully in May. He then filed a writ over the station's bookkeeping.
Cheng has called the dispute "politically motivated" and vowed to continue to solicit donations to fight the legal disputes.
At a protest over government inaction on the station at Tamar last night, Cheng's co-host Peter Lam Yuk-wah said the leaked tape showed the station's imminent closure was a result of political suppression. He said the tape was leaked by a staff member and Cheng knew nothing about it.
Another host, Lau Nam-kwong, said he would go on hunger strike to protest against political interference. They were on the eighth day of a voluntary effort to keep the station on air in compliance with licensing rules.
The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau would not say if it was aware of the clip but said that it would not intervene in a shareholders' dispute.
Lawmakers have urged the government to step in.
Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said that, assuming the recording was authentic, the liaison office had gone too far.
"This is against the Basic Law and 'one country, two systems'. Why does it matter to the liaison office who is invited to host a local broadcast programme?"
Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said recent developments showed political suppression was to blame for the shutdown of DBC.
Civil Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said the tape showed Wong did consult the liaison office about the operations of DBC.
"The government should really see to it and help DBC resume broadcasting," he said. "This is not really a dispute among shareholders. The government should not just hide behind it."