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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:

2011年5月
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?
鄭經翰:先講個政策先,做電台,最緊要有公信力,包括我在內,唔可以做政府喉舌…做電台最緊要有公信力,先有人聽。有人聽先有錢賺。最緊要係無政治立場,最緊要是其是,非其非。政府需要監察,唔監察點得呢?我就唔擔心,最緊要唔犯規,無針對性,但我地又唔好做喉舌。如果唔係電台無公信力,就無人聽。
黃楚標:李慧玲…是好惹火,你同我講過後,我地同彭(清華),中聯辦好反感,David(李國寶),你知嗎?(李國寶:知,係好唔想見到佢。),唔想我地要佢。但我亦同佢講此消彼長。但萬一佢來到(DBC),大班控制唔到呢?賺錢,我地當然同意,但我地唔想參與政治,或者捲入漩渦。我地應該明確清晰。
鄭經翰:做傳媒,第一要有獨立性…第二,我無可以話你聽我控制佢,如果我控制佢,係好大鑊,我無可能控制李慧玲,呢樣一定唔可以做。
我解釋畀你聽,有個宗旨,股東係分開。一頂帽,我係股東,另一頂帽我管內容。我係編輯,我都有自主…立場,我地不能預設,我同所有主持人都講,我地一定要根據事實,你地可以話有唔同立場…但我地一定唔可以有政治交易,我地唔可以話Donald話過,咁可唔以過…或者中聯辦我地話,專鬧民主派,就專鬧民主派,咁樣係唔得。一定有公信力。
黃楚標:我地唔想話為了個電台,引起不必要的…
鄭經翰:當你做傳媒,一定有是非…但有是非,你地咪話,找大班囉,把你地壓力卸開去,卸落我到。亦不需要話照住我,我唔使你照。
李國寶:我地照到你。
黃楚標:我地有意見表達,因為李慧玲係好惹火…
李國寶:就是河水不犯井水,我地無謂講咁多,你讚佢又好,彈又好…我地剩係睇返香港。
鄭:要講,一定要講,今日個個都講艾未未,你唔講唔得,咁講完咪算囉。

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.

2012年2月錄音
黃楚標:你亦知道點解我唔點賣得畀你,我係唔肯……我不如買多架飛機。
鄭經翰:如果我找到買家,佢又合資格,你地無得拒絕。
(不詳):但我地同意(買家)先得。
黃楚標:我地做呢,就唔會好似大班咁鬧政府。

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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