Beijing's Intervention on Radio License in Hong Kong Leaked

A recently established commercial radio station, Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited (DBC) [zh], has ceased to operate since October 10, 2012 because of internal disagreement among major shareholders. However, its founder Albert Cheng, a famous radio host, revealed that the top management and major shareholders have been pressured by the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong to wind up the company and return the license back to the Hong Kong government.

To stop Albert Cheng and others top management staff from exposing the details of internal discussion, one of the shareholders Wong Cho Bau, a property developer whose major business is in mainland China, applied for an injunction court order on September 26, 2012. In response to this legal harassment, supporters of Albert Cheng and DBC have occupied the square outside the Hong Kong Government office since October 19 and demanded that the government conduct an open investigation [zh] of the issue and pressure the major shareholders to fulfill the capital investment agreement according to terms of reference that come with the radio license. The assembly is planned last for at least seven days.

The latest development is the leakage last night October 20, 2012 of an audio tape that reveals Beijing's direct intervention in the radio station's operation:

Below is a partial transcription of the tape:

黃楚標:大班,你頭先話節目,大聲台見到有個李慧玲,佢主要鬧政府,仲要鬧中央政府,你係咪想我地做到咁樣…(李國寶:係呀,就是鬧 Donald )咁佢來到我地台,你主要想佢做咩?政策係咩先?

The public assembly outside the government building which is planned to last for at least 7 days. Photo from DBC Facebook Fan's page

May 2011

Wong Cho Bau: Albert, you just said the Loud Voice Channel will have Lee Wai Ling, her role is to criticize the government, including the Central government, do you really want to lead us there…

David Li [another major shareholder]: Yes, she will criticize Donald [the former Hong Kong mayor]

Wong Cho Bau: Do you want her here? What is our policy?

Albert Cheng: Let's talk about our policy first. We need credibility to be a radio station. We can't turn into government mouthpiece… we need credibility to attract an audience and then make money. We can't have a political stand and it is important that we stick to what is right and what is wrong. The government has to be monitored, why shouldn't we do that? The most important thing is not crossing the line and making personal attacks. If we become a mouthpiece, we lose our credibility and no one will listen to us.

Wong Cho Bau: Lee Wai Ling… many are angry at her. After you told me, I talked to Peng (Qinghua) [the current director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong], the Liaison Office is very pissed. David, do you know that?

David Li: Yes, they don't want to see her.

Wong Cho Bau: They don't want us to hire her. I tried to explain that there are pros and cons. But what if Albert cannot keep her under control? Of course I want to make money, but I don't want to get involved in politics. We have to make this clear.

Albert Cheng: The first criteria of running media is to keep it independent… Secondly, it is impossible for me to control her. This would be disastrous. I ought not do that.
Let me explain. The principle is that shareholders and management should be separated. There are two hats, one is shareholder, one is content manager. I am in both positions. As editor, I have to uphold the principle of autonomy. I tell all the hosts that we have to base our comments on fact and they can have their own political stands. Moreover, we cannot have political deals. We can't echo with Donald's talk… or we can't criticize the democrats according to the Liaison Office's instruction. We can't do that, we need credibility.

Wong Cho Bau: This radio station will result in unexpected consequence…

Albert Cheng: As a media organization, we will face a lot of pressure. Just leave it to me. You don't need to protect me, I don't need your protection.

David Li: We can protect you.

Wong Cho Bau: We just want to raise our opinion that Lee Wai Ling will stir up a lot of anger…

David Li: Just make sure that we don't intervene into mainland Chinese politics. Whether she is good or bad… let's focus on Hong Kong.

Albert Cheng: We have to talk about China… now everyone is talking about Ai Weiwei, you can't be silent on that. After all we are just talking.


DBC supporters talking on stage outside the HK Government Office on October 20, 2012. Photo from DBC's Facebook Fan's page

February 2012

Wong Cho Bau: You know why I can't sell it to you. I don't want to… I prefer to buy another plane.

Albert Cheng: What if I can find another buyer who is qualified. You can't reject that, right?

(Unknown voice): We have to review the buyer first.

Wong Cho Bau: If we take over, we won't criticize the government like Albert did.

The leaked tape proves that the top management of the radio, represented by Albert Cheng, has been under pressure from major shareholders who keep constant communication with the Beijing government's representative in Hong Kong. The shareholders eventually decided to stop injecting capital into the company according to plan, at the same time, refused to sell their shares to Albert Cheng, forcing the radio station to cease operation.

One of the program hosts at DBC, Lau Nan Kwong, has decided to hunger strike for seven days outside the government office building after he listened to the tape. Another communication rights activist Tsang Kin Shing, who has been challenging the government's radio and television broadcast license system, has also joined the hunger strike action.

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