Teacup Breaks In Storm Over Hong Kong Press Freedom

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A former Hong Kong talkshow host who quit his job saying he feared for his personal safety because of his outspoken views, will run as an independent candidate in September's Legislative Council elections, RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin services report.

Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Albert Cheng and his allegations against Hong Kong's Commercial Radio have prompted the station's bosses to pull his political discussion show Teacup in a Storm off the air.

" ; I got fired by the radio station. I lost my platform, I can no longer serve the public and carry on monitoring the government. " ;

The raucous late-morning chat show, with its tea-pouring sound effect and jaunty signature tune, has long been a feature in the lives of ordinary Hong Kong listeners. For the past 10 years, many have enjoyed the sound of Cheng taking on pro-Beijing politicians, government officials or lambasting social injustice in his persistent and abrasive style.

Now, two replacement hosts who were also critical of Beijing, Wong Yuk-man and Allen Lee have also quit. Cheng and Wong received threats while Lee said Beijing – ; using friends and business contacts as intermediaries – ; had pressured him to tone down his style.

Long regarded as symbol of the fragility of Hong Kong's traditional freedoms, Teacup will stay off the air at least until after the September elections, pending legal action by Cheng, Commercial Radio has said.

China has been blamed for orchestrating a series of recent vandalism attacks and threats in Hong Kong, with some democratic legislators saying the intimidation aimed at derailing legislative elections in September, which democrats are expected to win. The incidents have cast a shadow over traditionally safe and politically open Hong Kong.

China has recently taken a more active role in Hong Kong's affairs, ruling out the possibility of direct universal suffrage in legislative and Chief Executive elections scheduled in 2007 and 2008.

Officials in Beijing are thought to be extremely concerned that pro-democracy politicians will win all 30 of the directly-elected seats in the 60-seat legislature, providing a vocal platform in support of political change and for direct confrontation with central government.

Cheng will stand as an independent candidate, and said he would champion human rights and democratic reform. "I got fired by the radio station. I lost my platform, I can no longer serve the public and carry on monitoring the government," Cheng was quoted as saying by Reuters. "If I choose to stay and keep on fighting, I need another platform. The only obvious choice is the legislative council," Cheng said.

Cheng's resignation is not the only thing to spark concerns over media freedom in the former British colony. On July 1, hundreds where hundreds marched to demand more democracy on the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.

Also in July, a series of raids by Hong Kong graft-busters on eight major media organizations stunned journalists. Officers of the territory�s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raided the desks and homes of several court reporters, prompting an outcry from newspapers and journalists' associations at official heavy-handedness.

The United States expressed concern at the raids, and urged Hong Kong to uphold press freedoms.

A group of four professional media organizations warned in June of a "downward spiral" if Hong Kong's traditionally free media was not actively defended both by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials.

"We believe that it is critical to Hong Kong's position as a center of information exchange that all possible steps are taken to safeguard free expression and a free press," the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong said in a joint statement.

"Anything short of full support would have serious consequences for Hong Kong's role as a gateway between China and the world, with damaging consequences for the economy and the people's livelihood," said the statement, which was also signed by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association and the Society of Publishers in Asia.

On the Web:

Hong Kong Press Photographers Association

Society of Publishers in Asia

The Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong


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