The Hong Kong Radio Hosts-Part 3

Briefly, in the previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2), three Hong Kong radio hosts have quit their positions while hinting at political pressures being applied against their pro-democracy speech.  The Hong Kong Legistlative Council invited the three former radio hosts, but only one attended.  Four western media filed their reports below, but I would wait to read the local Chinese-language newspapers first before weighing in an opinion.  The western media have a habit of getting it all wrong (see yesterday's post on a different subject).  

Even with these reports, there are some obvious errors.  For example, BBC refers to radio talk shows being a relatively news phenomenon, but as early as the 1960's radio commentary had already played a role in local politics.  There was the case of radio commentator Lin Bin who was firebombed by communist sympathisers.  Since Lin's case is being cited repeatedly now, the BBC reporter should have known better. 

In the case of Allen Lee, I would suggest that his comments be put into context.  He was a Hong Kong delegate to the National People's Congress as well as a radio talk show host.  This dual role would not be acceptable in the United States, for example.  Can you imagine Senator John Kerry doing the morning drive-time call-in radio show in Washington DC?  This would not happen because a politician should not be able to leverage his media position to push political agenda or seek electoral edge.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor in California, even his wife Maria Shriver had to go on leave from her television spot.  So it was odd that Allen Lee had not been required to resign outright by law to begin with.

The Bloomberg report quotes Allen Lee as saying that another radio host Wong Yuk-man was Wong "physically trembling" right before he quit without notifiication.  Wong is in hiding, but the long article in Next Weekly cited in Part 2 suggests that debt collectors were pressuring him.  His restaurant had red paint splashed on it, and that is the classical sign (see previous post on the art of debt collection in Hong Kong).  I read somewhere that someone inferred that China must be behind the debt collectors because he had always owed money (to the order of couple of million US dollars) and they didn't press him very hard before until now.  O, brother!  Do pro-democracy radio host deadbeats get an automatic break!?  Is this what democracy is for?

(BBC)  HK radio host 'quit over threats', by Chris Hogg.  May 27, 2004.

A veteran Hong Kong politician has told legislators he quit his radio talk show because of warnings he would be in danger unless he toned down his anti-Beijing views.  Allen Lee, who is also a member of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, said he quit after a number of people pressured him to keep quiet.

Four hundred academics have taken out an advertisement in a leading daily newspaper in Hong Kong expressing disquiet over the resignation of Mr Lee and two other high-profile talk show hosts.

Radio talk shows are a relatively new phenomena in Hong Kong but they have rapidly become an institution.  Some estimates suggest as many as one in six people here listen to them in the morning.  Ordinary people have the chance to air their views.  Politicians find themselves challenged rigorously by the listeners and the programmes' presenters.  But recently three talk show hosts have resigned, complaining of threats and intimidation.

This hearing by Hong Kong lawmakers was an attempt to find out what is going on.  Two of the hosts refused to attend, saying they feared for their safety.  But a third, Allan Lee, told the inquiry a retired Chinese official and other friends from the mainland had tried to persuade him to tone down his comments.  He refused and decided to quit.

Mr Lee did not name names but he said the Chinese authorities were more nervous than ever before about the results of this year's election for Hong Kong's mini-parliament, still three months away.

Fears for the future of free speech in the former British colony have prompted 400 academics to take out an advertisement in the most widely read Chinese daily newspaper here, expressing "shock and concern" about the talk show hosts' resignations.

(BloombergHong Kong Radio Host Alleges China Pressured Him Off the Air.  May 27, 2004.

Former Hong Kong radio host and Chinese lawmaker Allen Lee said he quit both jobs after he was pressured by Beijing officials for pro-democracy comments he made on the air.

Lee, who appeared at a hearing before Hong Kong lawmakers, said he had several meetings with Beijing officials who relayed messages that top authorities were displeased with his public support for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. He didn't identify the Beijing officials.

"I've been told off by the Chinese leadership not just once over the style of my show, and that as a member of the China's National People's Congress, I shouldn't be making certain comments,'' Lee said. Two other radio hosts declined to appear at the hearing, saying they were concerned about their safety.

Lee and the two other hosts, Albert Cheng and Wong Yuk-man, went off the air in recent weeks, prompting concern among the public that free-speech rights may be curbed. Hong Kong was returned to China's rule July 1, 1997, with constitutional guarantees for civil liberties, such as free speech and press, for at least 50 years.

Public anger has been building in Hong Kong, where people have demonstrated to voice their opposition to what they perceive as China's attempts to limit personal freedoms, such as a controversial anti-subversion legislation that was later withdrawn. China ruled last month that Hong Kong people can't directly elect their leader in 2007 and all lawmakers in 2008.

Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong's most-popular Chinese- language newspapers, had a full-page advertisement today from 400 academics saying they wanted to "express their shock and concern'' about the talk-show hosts' resignations.

"We firmly believe that the freedom to speak one's mind publicly should be pressured and defended,'' the ad statement said. ``In face of autocratic and political pressure, we will not be silent. On the contrary, we must dare to speak out.''

About half a million people took to the streets in Hong Kong last July 1 to voice their dissatisfaction with Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and the anti-subversion legislation.

Tung, who's serving a second five-year term, is selected by an 800-member panel handpicked by Beijing. Activists plan to hold another march on July 1 this year.

At today's hearing, Lee told lawmakers that he was confronted about his broadcasting in August in Inner Mongolia, where a Beijing official expressed concerns about his pro- democracy stance. In March, he received a similar warning in Beijing, where he was attending the Chinese National People's Congress meeting.

Telephone calls from Chinese authorities ended after he quit, Lee said. Unlike his radio show colleagues, Lee said he didn't fear for his own safety and required no protection.  Wong was "physically trembling'' when Lee met him days before his resignation and quit without prior notification, Lee said at today's hearing. Cheng wept at a recent meeting, Lee said.

"I wouldn't let them put me in such a position that I would feel physically threatened,'' Lee told lawmakers. "I wouldn't go that far.''

(AFPChina pressured me to quit, HK talkshow host tells legislators.  May 27, 2004

An outspoken radio talkshow host told Hong Kong legislators he quit his show because Chinese officials told him he would be in danger if he did not stop airing anti-Beijing comments.

Allen Lee, also a veteran politician, said he refused to give in to the threats.  
"A lot of people, including mainland officials pressured me to keep quiet," Lee told a specially convened legislative panel meeting. "I refused to soften my views ... so I quit."

Lee resigned from his "Teacup in a Storm" radio show soon after two other high-profile talkshow hosts stepped down saying they had received threats of violence because of their anti-Beijing views.

The resignations sparked fears in the largely-autonomous former British colony, which was handed over to China in 1997, that Beijing had launched a crackdown on subversive media figures.

Lee said a "retired Chinese official" and other "people" including a friend had tried to persuade him to tone down his comments.  "This mainland friend wanted to see me but I refused ... because he wanted to speak to me about the matters about my show," Lee said. "I felt that there was no need to talk about it because ... there was nothing more to talk about."

Lee, the former leader of the business-backed Liberal Party and a leading cabinet member during British rule, is the only one of the three hosts to speak to legislators: the other two, Albert Cheng and Wong Yuk-man, refused saying they feared for their safety.

He said China's motive behind the intimidation was September's legislative elections, which democrats critical of China are tipped to win.  "No one in this room would know how nervous they (China) are about this year's election," Lee said. "This nervousness is unprecedented."

A pro-Beijing legislator, however, poured scorn on Lee's comments, saying there was no proof China was behind the threats.  "We shouldn't make any conclusions until the police have finished their investigation," said Wong Yuk-kan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong party.

He also scoffed at suggestions freedom of speech had been harmed.  "No one has told any editors not to publish any stories, even on "Teacup in a Storm" they still criticise the government," Wong said.

Pro-democracy legislator Margaret Ng said Lee's revelations were "frightening".  "Freedom of speech means freedom from fear," she told reporters after the hearing. "If you have to be defiant and think that you must risk your life to speak out on perfectly normal political views it is frightening."

Four hundred academics Thursday put their names to a full-page advertisement in the mass-circulation Apple Daily newspaper, expressing "shock and concern" over the resignations.  "We firmly believe that the freedom to speak one's mind publicly should be treasured and defended," the advertisement read.

Fears of a crackdown on free speech have added to growing mistrust of mainland authorities following Beijing's hardline ruling earlier this month against a swift transition to full democracy in Hong Kong.  The intervention followed months of conflict between Beijing officials and pro-democracy figures who claimed that Hong Kong's mini-constitution provided for full elections of the city's leader by 2007.

(FT)  HK radio host quits under pressure from Beijing.  By Enid Tsui.  May 27, 2004.

Allen Lee, former host of an outspoken radio chatshow in Hong Kong, told local lawmakers on Thursday that he had resigned from the programme due to pressure from people connected to the Chinese government.


In his address to a special session at Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) on freedom of speech on Thursday, he said a powerful "friend in the mainland" had advised him to tone down his comments. He also said a former central government official had contacted him to discuss his show.

Mr Lee told Legco that he had promised not to disclose the identities of these people, and said he had not received the kind of direct threats described by Mr Cheng and Mr Wong. He added, however, that he wanted to quit before the pressure escalated into anything more intimidating.

Government officials said the police would look into the three radio hosts' claims.

Law Yuk-kai, chairperson of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said on Thursday his group had collected evidence from various sources that the National Security Bureau on the mainland was behind the resignations.