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Concern over alleged political interference in Hong Kong broadcaster

(IFJ/IFEX) - October 23, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned by allegations of the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong exercising undue political influence over the editorial policies of the Hong Kong-based Digital Broadcasting Corporation.

Hong Kong's Digital Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), the first digital radio station in Hong Kong closed on October 10, after just four months on-air. The station was forced to cease operations after a disagreement between shareholders, and a lack of funds to continue broadcasting. However, there have been allegations that the closure was politically motivated.

Following the station's shutdown, protests calling for media freedom and for government intervention in the ongoing shareholder dispute were held outside the Hong Kong Government Building.

On the second day of the protests, October 20, a programme host of the station played a tape on-air which reportedly exhibited that the Chinese Liaison Office – which represents the Central Government of China in the special administrative region of Hong Kong -- had sought to influence the station's editorial independence through the appointment of one of its hosts.

The edited version of the tape, reportedly recorded secretly in May 2011 during a meeting between Wong Cho-Bau and other shareholders including the founder of DBC, Albert Cheng King-Hon, featured a discussion over the recruitment of the programme host, Lee Wai-Ling. A veteran journalist, Lee is known for her criticism of both the Central China and Hong Kong governments.

On the tape, a man says: "I've mentioned to Peng about the recruitment of Lee as a programme host. [The] Chinese Liaison Office dislikes [this] very much."

Although the tape does not reveal the speaker's identity, nor that of the person referred to, it is widely believed by members of the public, and by the station itself, that the voice is that of Wong Cho-Bau, and that the person identified as Peng is the Director of the Chinese Liaison Office, Peng Qinghua.

The tape also points to self-censorship - with discussion about attempts being made to prevent the station criticising the Central and Hong Kong Government.

According to reports from the South China Morning Post, Wong declined to comment about the tape's contents, but reportedly denied that he had spoken with the Chinese Liaison Office regarding recruitment of the programme host.

Founder of DBC, Albert Cheng, initially blamed the station's shut down on political interference by the Chinese Liaison Office, but later shifted his accusations towards the Government of Hong Kong.

Litigation is pending between Wong and Cheng, amid allegations that Wong reneged on a deal to continue to invest money in the station.

"We urge Leung Chun-Ying, Chief Executive of Hong Kong to honour his promise to uphold press freedom in Hong Kong, and call for an independent inquiry to determine whether political influence was exercised over the station's editorial policy, and appointments, or had a hand in its closure," said the IFJ Asia Pacific.

The IFJ has reported on increases in political influence and self-censorship in China, and moves by the governments to tighten flows of information and news coverage since the beginning of the year.

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