Pro-democracy politicians said they feared the departure of broadcasting chief Cheung Man-yee, announced yesterday, would damage freedom of expression. But critics of RTHK said they hoped the removal of Miss Cheung, to a trade post in Tokyo, would result in the station becoming more supportive of the Government. Her departure followed pressure from leftists for the Government to stop what they believed to be attacks on the Tung administration and Beijing. Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said: 'This is the beginning of the end of freedom of expression.' Referring to Tung Chee-hwa's reported response when asked what he would do about RTHK's alleged unfairness, Mr Lee said: 'The Chief Executive has said: 'Slowly, slowly'. Eventually, that day has dawned.' Party vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan likened the transfer of Miss Cheung to surgery undertaken by Mr Tung to remove those whom the extreme leftists detested from key organisations. 'The transfer indicates another victory of the extreme left political force in Hong Kong,' Mr Ho said. 'It has dealt a serious blow to our freedom of speech and RTHK's editorial independence. With less than two years to go before she reaches her retirement age, it's a waste of talent to 'exile' her.' However, Xu Simin, a Standing Committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference who has attacked RTHK as anti-government, welcomed the decision. 'RTHK is supposed to have stuck to the Basic Law since the handover but has continuously criticised China. It should assist the SAR Government and Hong Kong people, but has not done that,' he said. 'There's an end to every banquet.' He said he hoped RTHK would now have 'constructive opinions' about the Government and promote government policies. Another top Beijing adviser, Tsang Hin-chi, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, expected RTHK to become more positive about the mainland and the SAR Government. 'Many media did not give much coverage of National Day. . ., but when there are only a small group of people petitioning [the Government], the press gives wide coverage. The press must preserve a stable atmosphere for Hong Kong's benefit,' Mr Tsang said. Legislator Tsang Yok-sing, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, described the transfer as normal. 'It would amount to casting a no-confidence vote in Miss Cheung's successor should we now assume that he or she will not uphold RTHK's editorial policy as firmly as Miss Cheung does,' he said. Liberal Party vice-chairman Ronald Arculli shared the view that the transfer was no surprise and would not compromise RTHK's editorial independence. 'Given her reputable status in the industry, no timing is good timing,' he said.