ALBERT CHENG



We have known Albert for at least three decades in his Joy Luck days when he was a social activist in Vancouver's Chinatown and part of the group who founded the Chinese Cultural Centre, including my Dad, and he was then associated with famous movie star, ANITA MUI.     He was founder of Chinese Playboy. 

He married a lovely lady, IRENE who was a former Miss Hong Kong.  They raised their sons in Hong Kong but go every year to Vancouver where Albert's mother still lives.     He is as colourful character and has become quite the celebrity in Hong Kong!   We spent many lunches with him at the Hongkong Club where he likes to hold court.   It was I who introduced him to Swire Group MD in the 90's.   

Legislator Albert Cheng King-hon, a former talk-show host, said yesterday his bid to seek a broadcasting license for an AM radio station was not a step back.

"I used to scold people in my show. It is not good for society to spread negative messages. Besides, society has changed and now prefers harmony," Cheng said yesterday.

He said his radio station, if it became a reality, would depend on advertisement revenue, even though there are two other licensed commercial stations.

"It's just like the free newspapers. People at first were skeptical but now it seems that each and every free newspaper is successful," Cheng said.

"You provide more choices for the listeners and the advertisement pie will get bigger. After all, radio is the most economic medium in which to place ads."

Asked about the support he was receiving from leading politicians and businessmen, Cheng replied: "I consider whether we are of the same mind and not their political leanings."

He said he had not yet decided whether he will host any program for the station but he has definitely decided not to run for the Legislative Council again.

Cheng said he had spent many years studying the feasibility of investing in a radio station. He said he is applying to use one of the two idle AM channels.

He is convinced there is a demand for an AM station, especially since the costs of portable radios are now lower.

Cheng said the new station could be up and running within a year of receiving a license.

Speaking on his decision to leave the Legislative Council chambers, Cheng said he felt he could no longer make a meaningful contribution since the government now had the confidence of the society, the economy had improved, and there was little or no discontent.

Cheng made his name as a political critic and host of the popular Tea Cup in a Storm show on Commercial Radio from 1995 to 2004.

He quit in 2004, the same year it was reported he had been receiving death threats and the premises of one of the firms in which he owned shares was attacked. Cheng had already been attacked in 1998, receiving six knife wounds from two assailants.

He ran for a Legco seat and was elected in late 2004.

David Li Kwok-po, the banking sector legislator and the chairman and chief executive of Bank of East Asia, confirmed he intended to invest in Cheng's radio station.

Three other directors of BEA, the former secretary for education and manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, Allan Wong Chi-yun and William Mong Man-wai, chairman and senior managing director of the Shun Hing Group, have also indicated they will invest in the project.   - 2008 February  THE STANDARD

Renounces his Canadian citizenship


Albert Cheng shows reporters a copy of his application to renounce his Canadian citizenship, which will allow him to run in the Legco elections, as he lodges his complaint against Commercial Radio with the ICAC.     

Typhoon Taipan

In a rare show of humility, talk-show host Albert Cheng King-hon said last week he would soon become nobody after he quit Commercial Radio's Teacup in a Storm. "I am finished ... I will become nobody: just a man in the street." Not quite.

Cheng, also known as Taipan, made the remarks on Thursday after he gave a tearful farewell to listeners of Teacup, which has become Hong Kong's most popular phone-in programme since it first went to air in 1995.

In less than a week, the controversial talk-show host found himself in the eye of the storm over Teacup. As speculation brewed over the weekend about his plunge into politics as an independent candidate in September's Legislative Council elections, Monday saw a dramatic turn in his rift with Commercial Radio over his contract.

Hours after he announced he had made up his mind about his electoral debut, Commercial Radio's director, Winnie Yu, convened a hastily arranged press conference, claiming it had been Cheng who first suggested his contract should be terminated.

Cheng, who sat through the press conference, retaliated immediately after Ms Yu made her case. He claimed the broadcaster had offered to pay out his contract on condition he did not stand for Legco - a claim rejected by Ms Yu. Yesterday, Cheng filed a formal complaint to the Independent Commission Against Corruption over the alleged breach of electoral law.

Upon legal advice, Commercial Radio said it had no comment. Nor would it discuss the row over its programmes. Late on Monday night, the station sacked its chief operating officer, Tony Tsoi Tung-ho, and changed the hosts of Teacup, effective from yesterday until after the September 12 elections. Two veteran journalists have taken up the hot seat which was vacated by consultant Leung Man-to and Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The shakeup at Teacup and the privately funded broadcaster followed a war of words between Cheng and Ms Yu last Wednesday, apparently sparked by a newspaper advertisement paid for by a group of Cheng's supporters. Countering a promotional slogan of the broadcaster, the signatories, mostly from the pro-democracy circle, asked: "Do we still have a sense of what is right under heaven and earth? Why sack Taipan? Commercial Radio owes the public an explanation."

An organiser of the ad, Chan Kwok-leung, said the action was taken after a petition outside the station a week before had gone unattended. Cheng insisted he played no part in the ad.

To the surprise of Mr Chan and many others, Ms Yu went on air last Wednesday during Teacup to confirm talks on an early settlement of Cheng's contract were in progress. She said the hosts had themselves undermined freedom of expression by quitting the show.

She was referring to Raymond Wong Yuk-man and Allen Lee Peng-fei. Teacup, she added, also needed a review of its style to keep abreast of the times. "We have decided not to resort to airing emotional expression. Instead, we will take a rational approach to deal with issues. The more difficult the situation Hong Kong faces, the more we need to keep control of our emotions," she said.

Speaking on Close Encounter of the Political Kind, Ms Yu said the departure of Cheng and his long-time partner, Lam Yuk-wah, "put the era to an end".

The following day, Ms Yu and Cheng made a joint appearance - probably the first and the last time - on Teacup. Cheng, in tears, said: "My relationship with Winnie is not damaged by this incident. We can't co-operate on work, but in private we are still friends."

Grilled by a host about whether she would reconsider, Ms Yu said: "This was not a hasty decision ... We would not reverse it easily."

As the story of Teacup winds down, a blitz of confusing reports about Cheng's bid for an independent seat at the next Legco poll heralds a new chapter in the tale of the Taipan.

His media career has been a tumultuous one. At the end of an Asia Television talk show in 1995, Cheng was asked to launch Teacup at the invitation of Ms Yu - it was she who gave the programme its name. Three years later, Cheng was brutally attacked by knife-wielding assailants outside Commercial Radio's headquarters in Kowloon Tong. No arrests were made. Last year, he went off the air for three months while the government was considering a renewal of the broadcaster's licence. Cheng announced a decision to go off the air on May 3 until September 28, citing political intimidation and a "suffocating"  atmosphere.

He revealed last week he had received a call from Mr Tsoi about the decision to terminate his contract on June 21, which was the curtain-raiser to the showdown with Commercial Radio - and arguably his election campaign - in the past week. Following days, if not weeks, of contradictory remarks, Cheng gave the clearest indication so far on Friday that he would run for a Legco seat. He said on Saturday that the idea of entering politics arose after the call from Mr Tsoi in June. "I was very angry then ... I think the only way that I can continue to speak out is to enter Legco."

He said he only submitted his application to renounce his Canadian passport in mid-July. He received the formal approval on Monday and is expected to formally submit his candidacy before the nomination period ends today.

Sources said Cheng made initial approaches to key figures in the pan-democracy camp in late June, after he faced the axe. One said: "He was so confident of his chances, he said he would definitely win in any geographical  constituency.

"We have not done any polls on him. Nor has he done any. But we can't stop him from contesting."

Another source said: "He was never serious about standing for Legco elections. He really wanted to resume his work after his vacation ended. It was until his days at Commercial Radio were to end that he seriously considered Legco. He has nothing to do after leaving Teacup. He didn't want to retire to Canada, so going for Legco is the obvious choice for him."

The second source said Cheng was unable to confirm his election bid before last weekend because of uncertainty over his passport. "He also had to consider the impact of his plan on the pan-democracy camp."

Speaking on Monday, Ms Yu said Cheng had told Mr Tsoi in mid-June that he was considering standing for election.

She said he had to choose one or the other - the contract or standing for election. "I didn't want to delay his election timetable. We didn't mean to block him from standing, but the contract won't be valid if he stands."

Crucial to the row was a letter to Cheng from Commercial Radio dated June 25, on the formal termination of contract. It is understood that it was issued by a law firm on behalf of the station, and delivered to Cheng while he was still in Canada.

Cheng said: "They didn't say [in the letter] that they wanted to fire me or terminate my contract. The meaning [of the letter] was that they didn't want me to host the programme and they would pay me every month. But there was one condition: I could not stand for Legco elections."

Ms Yu said it was fair that the contract would become invalid if Cheng stood for elections. "Many people will agree a Legco member should not have the most popular airtime [programme] as his platform at the same time."

The second source said Ms Yu had not yet given a convincing explanation of the initiative to terminate Cheng's contract. "Both sides suffer. But those who support Cheng will probably continue to back him. He has no problem winning a seat in Legco."

In his regular column in Ming Pao Weekly published at the weekend, Cheng said Teacup would no longer be the "cup of tea of ordinary people" if it was full of rational analysis, without any emotional input.

Regardless of the programme's new approach, the legacy of Cheng on Teacup has come to a bitter end. The next chapter of the Taipan's tale looks set to be his venture into politics - if he fields his candidacy today and wins a seat on September 12.  -   2004 August 4         SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST  

Motives a mystery in radio storm

If the circumstances behind the early termination of Albert Cheng King-hon's contract were unclear when serious talk about it surfaced last week, the row that has developed since then between the talk-show host and station director Winnie Yu has only muddied the waters.

The holes in the arguments of both sides - not to mention their vastly different interpretation of events - make it difficult for the public to understand the truth. Meanwhile, worrying questions about the climate for political debate in Hong Kong are raised but left unanswered.

The public interest would best be served by a complete airing of the facts behind Cheng's departure and the station's handling of it. This, however, is largely dependent on some forthrightness being shown by Cheng and Ms Yu. But considering that both sides appear to be pursuing their own conflicting, and undisclosed agendas, this is far from a certain outcome.

Cheng's latest charge is a serious one. He alleges that Commercial Radio wanted him to leave the show but continue to receive payments so long as he did not run for a Legislative Council seat in next month's elections.

Ms Yu, for her part, insists that it was Cheng who initiated talks about his leaving. The backdrop to the conflict includes a management reshuffle at the private broadcaster and changes to the lineup of hosts for the call-in chat show Teacup in a Storm, which Cheng made popular. Ms Yu has now taken over day-to-day operations of the station, while stand-in hosts of the show, Leung Man-to and Ivan Choy Chi-keung have been replaced.

Perhaps the biggest mystery in all this is the timing of the row, which has burst into the open as Cheng prepares to file his nomination papers for the September Legco poll. Why has neither side spoken up before now? The course of events leaves open the possibility that either, or both, are exploiting media coverage for their own purposes. Last night, Cheng claimed Commercial Radio notified him that it was ready to reinstate him. The latest twist deepens the mystery and raises more doubt about the whole truth behind what's being said in public.

The past week's intense media speculation about Cheng's intentions to run for Legco and his non-committal answers highlight his mastery of the public relations game. What we do know is that he has generated maximum coverage for his possible participation in what will be the closest Legco race ever, while also increasing the chances of exiting his radio career with a generous payout.

To the extent that there has been manipulation of the media, the potential is there for a cynical backlash from the voting public. If Cheng's serious complaint of bribery against Commercial Radio, followed up by a filing of a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption yesterday, turns out to be part of the campaign, the repercussions could be worse.

But considering that the letter from Commercial Radio which Cheng says contains the offer in question has now become part of an ICAC investigation, it may be many months before the public has the information needed to make its own assessment.

Raising these questions about the motives of the two parties does little to diminish the serious concerns about freedom of expression that the whole episode generates. There is now much uncertainty about the future of Teacup in a Storm. If Commercial Radio's intention is, as stated by Ms Yu, to tone down such programmes and make them less confrontational - despite their popularity - we do have to wonder whether the scope for broad political debate in Hong Kong is becoming too narrow.

All eyes will be on how the reshuffled management deals with staff concerns and whether Teacup remains the open public forum it has always been -   2004 August 4 SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST   Editorial    


Ex-HK radio host claims station tried to 'bribe' him

HONG KONG - The outspoken former host of a popular radio show here has accused the station of attempting to prevent him from standing in next month's legislative election.

Mr Albert Cheng appeared uninvited at a press conference hastily convened by the Commercial Radio on Monday.

He alleged that the station had tried to 'bribe' him into not contesting the Sept 12 Legislative Council (Legco) polls, reported The Standard yesterday.

Mr Cheng said the station had sent him a letter on June 25 saying it would continue to pay him until his contract expires at the end of February 2008, on the condition that he quit the race.

He said he would file formal complaints with Hong Kong's election commission and anti-corruption police.

But Ms Winnie Yu, Commercial Radio's director, said Mr Cheng himself had offered to 'switch off his microphone for good' in exchange for full payment of his 40-month contract so that he could run in the Legco elections.

She said there would be a conflict of interest if he continued to host the influential programme.

'We of course didn't have any intention of stopping or influencing his decision to stand for election, but we have stated very clearly that between the two, he can only choose one,' she said at the press conference.

Mr Cheng, however, said there is no clause in his contract that barred him from being a lawmaker or taking up other public service.

In May, he said he would take a break from the show, saying that he felt 'suffocated by political repression'.

His departure was followed swiftly by those of his replacement Allen Lee, and commentator Raymond Wong.

Mr Lee, citing threats to his family, said that Mr Wong had also been intimidated into leaving his post.

Events surrounding his exit have sparked a furore in the territory where the pro-democracy camp has complained of repeated criticism and intimidation from the Chinese government and its supporters.

Mr Cheng last week formally agreed to quit the programme he has hosted for 10 years.

Mr Cheng told local radio late yesterday that he would file an application today to run for the election. -- AFP       4 Aug 2004

Radio chairman meets staff in bid to allay fears
Commercial Radio's low-key chairman has met behind closed doors with his staff to try and soothe internal turmoil and lift morale after the sacking of commentator Albert Cheng and a shake-up of senior management in recent days.

Chairman Ho Kei, the son of the privately held station's founder, on Tuesday met staff for 10 minutes at company headquarters in Kowloon Tong, during which he said he fully supported Winnie Yu - the point person in firing Cheng - who was promoted to vice-chairman on Monday night.

He also assured the staff that there was no change of direction in the station's programming, according to a source at the meeting. The source said Ho made no reference to the termination of Cheng's contract or the row that followed it.

According to the source, many staff members were disappointed that Ho failed to recognise the contribution made by the talk-show host.

Cheng's brash style made Teacup in a Storm the most listened to radio programme in Hong Kong and helped the company's CR1 station to become the SAR's most popular.

With Cheng's influence at its peak last year as he led criticism of the government's handling of the Sars outbreak and the proposed Article 23 anti-sedition law, the station's market share increased 27 per cent.

The popularity of Teacup meant big money for Commercial Radio. Advertisers flocked to the programme despite the controversial content, enabling the company to charge double the normal rate to buy time on the programmes. At the time Cheng left, the company was asking HK$4,020 for 30-second slots on the show.

A war of words between Cheng and Yu, then the station's director, on Monday led to the ousting of chief operating officer Tony Tsoi and the suspension of its adviser, Leung Man-to, as a host of Teacup. ``Staff morale has been badly affected,'' the source said, adding that Tsoi was popular among workers.

``However, as responsible employees they are not contemplating any industrial action.''

Meanwhile, Cheng on Tuesday followed through on a threat and filed a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption alleging that ``someone or some organisations'' had attempted to bribe him not to take part in the Legislative Council elections on September 12.

Cheng said on Monday that the station had issued a letter on June 25 saying it would continue to pay him until his contract expired at the end of February 2008 without him having to work, on the condition he not take part in the Legco election.

After meeting with ICAC staff, Cheng said he had been warned by the anti-graft body not to disclose further details of his complaint.

However, when asked whether his contract with the radio station stipulated that he could not run for Legco, he replied that there was no such condition.

Yu, who began her career as a disc jockey, refused to comment when she arrived at the station on Tuesday morning.

She would only say: ``I set off again on a sunny day.'' - by Marcal Joanilho, Teddy Ng and Matthew Lee     HONGKONG STANDARD    4 Aug 2004

Albert Cheng says Commercial Radio wants him back
Commercial Radio has offered to reinstate Albert Cheng King-hon, the ousted radio talk-show host claimed last night, in the latest twist over the termination of his contract.

"My lawyer received a letter from Commercial Radio tonight, saying they respect the spirit of the contract and are ready to reinstate me," Cheng told the South China Morning Post, after revealing plans to stand for the Legco elections in Kowloon East instead of New Territories West.

Commercial Radio would not confirm that Cheng would be reinstated. A statement issued early today said only that: "Because both sides have not signed an agreement to terminate the contract, lawyers representing Commercial Radio sent a letter to the other side and stressed that we must respect the signed contract."

But Cheng said he would not be returning to Teacup in a Storm, the controversial morning talk show he hosted for 10 years.

"After what has transpired in the past few days, I do not believe I could have any job security in resuming my position as host of Teacup in a Storm. My trust in the station's present management is non-existent," Cheng said.

"If the station is serious about its pledge to safeguard freedom of speech, it should reinstate its chief operating officer, Tony Tsoi Tung-ho, and head of Radio One, Leung Man-to, who have become collateral damage in my case against the station."

Mr Tsoi, who had been negotiating the termination of Cheng's contract, was sacked by Commercial Radio on Monday night, while Leung, who was the stand-in host for Teacup, has been suspended from duty. The station's latest offer came soon after he lodged a complaint against the broadcaster with the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Cheng alleges Commercial Radio blocked him from standing in elections. The ICAC said it would act according to set procedures and would contact the complainant within 48 hours to arrange an interview.

Cheng said he would register today to stand in the September polls, teaming up with The Frontier's Andrew To Kwan-hang, to run in the Kowloon East constituency.

He said the new plan would help the pro-democracy camp to knock out Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong candidate Chan Kam-lam.

"Fellow democrats said my presence there will have an added-value. Now we should be able to win three seats at least, and possibly four out of the five seats in the area," he said.

Meanwhile, in another revelation, Cheng claimed a person with a triad background had talked to him twice - last November and in March - asking him not to criticise the authorities.

"He didn't mention money or quitting the show. He talked about consequences," Cheng told RTHK.

"He asked me to stop criticising the Hong Kong government. He represented a mainland organisation, an official, a leader. He passed the words on to me. He also said they were prepared to do anything.

"The implication was clever people, such as us, should know what to do. He said they could give us whatever we demanded."

Cheng said last night: "Let me state categorically that I have never been offered, or accepted, any money or benefits to go off air."    - by Quinton Chan, Jimmy Cheung and Chloe Lai    SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST    4 Aug 2004

Suspended radio host pledges not to resign

Commercial Radio talk-show host Leung Man-to yesterday said he would not resign over the controversy surrounding Albert Cheng King-hon, stressing he had done nothing wrong.

Leung, a consultant to the station, expressed dismay at its decision to suspend him from hosting the Teacup in a Storm programme. He said he would continue to carry out his other duties at the station, adding that his future rested with newly appointed deputy chairwoman Winnie Yu.

His remarks came as chairman G.J. Ho and Ms Yu held a staff meeting to explain the company reshuffles on Monday night, in which chief operating officer Tony Tsoi Tung-ho was sacked and Ms Yu was appointed to her new post.

Bombarded with questions from reporters before entering the building, Mr Ho said: "I support [Winnie] Yu Tsang."

Ms Yu, who arrived separately, was tight-lipped, saying only: "Under the bright and clear sky, I start my journey again."

It is understood Mr Ho assured more than 100 staff at the meeting that the broadcaster continued to enjoy freedom of expression.

After the meeting, Leung revealed that he was notified of his suspension by Ms Yu at a meeting on Monday night, at which Mr Tsoi was told that he was sacked.

"I'm temporarily suspended from hosting the Teacup in a Storm programme. But frankly speaking, I'm not quite clear about the reasons [for the decision]," Leung said.

"This morning, I heard on [Teacup] that my suspension was because I'm physically and mentally exhausted, and needed a rest. But I haven't felt that way," he said.

He was referring to the explanation given by his replacement, Choi Man-kin, deputy director of news and public affairs, when Choi announced that he and executive producer Lo Ho-wing, would host the programme until after the Legco elections on September 12.

But Leung said there was no mention at the previous night's meeting of his needing a rest.

In a statement issued yesterday, Leung's co-host, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, who originally promised to host the programme until Friday, said Leung notified him at about 10pm on Monday that neither would host Teacup again.

Leung said Cheng's remarks that he would leave the talk show and not make unfavourable comments about the broadcaster if it paid out his full contract had come during a lunch with Cheng and Mr Tsoi at the Jockey Club.

He admitted having told Ms Yu about this comment during a casual chat.

"I never expected that her reaction would be so huge to what I think was just a casual remark and some comments made when a person was in an unstable condition.

"I think it is one of the factors that contributed to the incident developing to the current state, I regret it very much," he said, adding that he had apologised to Cheng over the issue.

Ms Yu said on Monday she "very much disliked" the proposal.

But Leung maintained that he did nothing wrong. "Until today, I've not done any single thing to owe Commercial Radio anything. Concerning Commercial Radio, my friends, including [Albert] Cheng King-hon, [former Commercial Radio hosts] Wong Yuk-man and [Allen] Lee Peng-fei ... I do not have any guilty feelings.

"As I haven't done anything wrong, and I haven't owed anybody anything, I won't resign," he said. Cheng said the decision to sack Mr Tsoi was hasty and he felt surprised and saddened by it.

Commercial Radio talk-show host Leung Man-to yesterday said he would not resign over the controversy surrounding Albert Cheng King-hon, stressing he had done nothing wrong.

Leung, a consultant to the station, expressed dismay at its decision to suspend him from hosting the Teacup in a Storm programme. He said he would continue to carry out his other duties at the station, adding that his future rested with newly appointed deputy chairwoman Winnie Yu.

His remarks came as chairman G.J. Ho and Ms Yu held a staff meeting to explain the company reshuffles on Monday night, in which chief operating officer Tony Tsoi Tung-ho was sacked and Ms Yu was appointed to her new post.

Bombarded with questions from reporters before entering the building, Mr Ho said: "I support [Winnie] Yu Tsang."

Ms Yu, who arrived separately, was tight-lipped, saying only: "Under the bright and clear sky, I start my journey again."

It is understood Mr Ho assured more than 100 staff at the meeting that the broadcaster continued to enjoy freedom of expression.

After the meeting, Leung revealed that he was notified of his suspension by Ms Yu at a meeting on Monday night, at which Mr Tsoi was told that he was sacked.

"I'm temporarily suspended from hosting the Teacup in a Storm programme. But frankly speaking, I'm not quite clear about the reasons [for the decision]," Leung said.

"This morning, I heard on [Teacup] that my suspension was because I'm physically and mentally exhausted, and needed a rest. But I haven't felt that way," he said.

He was referring to the explanation given by his replacement, Choi Man-kin, deputy director of news and public affairs, when Choi announced that he and executive producer Lo Ho-wing, would host the programme until after the Legco elections on September 12.

But Leung said there was no mention at the previous night's meeting of his needing a rest.

In a statement issued yesterday, Leung's co-host, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, who originally promised to host the programme until Friday, said Leung notified him at about 10pm on Monday that neither would host Teacup again.

Leung said Cheng's remarks that he would leave the talk show and not make unfavourable comments about the broadcaster if it paid out his full contract had come during a lunch with Cheng and Mr Tsoi at the Jockey Club.

He admitted having told Ms Yu about this comment during a casual chat.

"I never expected that her reaction would be so huge to what I think was just a casual remark and some comments made when a person was in an unstable condition.

"I think it is one of the factors that contributed to the incident developing to the current state, I regret it very much," he said, adding that he had apologised to Cheng over the issue.

Ms Yu said on Monday she "very much disliked" the proposal.

But Leung maintained that he did nothing wrong. "Until today, I've not done any single thing to owe Commercial Radio anything. Concerning Commercial Radio, my friends, including [Albert] Cheng King-hon, [former Commercial Radio hosts] Wong Yuk-man and [Allen] Lee Peng-fei ... I do not have any guilty feelings.

"As I haven't done anything wrong, and I haven't owed anybody anything, I won't resign," he said. Cheng said the decision to sack Mr Tsoi was hasty and he felt surprised and saddened by it.    - SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST    4 Aug 2004

 
Fans greet Albert Cheng in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Picture by K.Y. Cheng 

Cheng in tearful farewell to Teacup

On his last day at Commercial Radio, Albert Cheng King-hon declared that his love for the broadcaster and his friendship with its director, Winnie Yu, remained unchanged despite recent con- troversies.

With tears running down his cheeks, Cheng said yesterday the 10 years he spent hosting the popular Teacup in a Storm show was the "most glorious" time of his life. He appealed to all his fans to continue their support for the radio station, where he said many happy memories lingered.

Cheng is expected to sign a settlement agreement as early as today.

In marked contrast to their confrontation a day earlier, Cheng and Ms Yu praised each other and shook hands several times.

Despite the bonhomie, and despite the public outcry since Ms Yu confirmed on Wednesday that Cheng's contract had been terminated early, Ms Yu remained undeterred yesterday. Cheng abruptly quit the airwaves earlier this year, citing political pressure, but had vowed to be back in September.

Ms Yu admitted she had pondered the decision over the past 24 hours, but insisted: "This was not a hasty decision ... We would not reverse it easily."

Cheng said he had been very happy in his 10 years as host, despite a near-fatal chopper attack in 1998. "Even though I nearly lost my life in 1998, I was still very happy when I came back. Today, I'm equally happy. Winnie Yu is sitting beside me. I will forever support Commercial Radio. And I don't believe that Commercial Radio without me or [former Talkback host Wong] Yuk-man or other people will change its style.

"My relationship with Winnie is not damaged by this incident. We can't co-operate in working, but in private, we are still friends.

He said that when he left the station he followed normal procedure, applying for two months' paid leave and three months' unpaid leave. Ms Yu said management had approved the application for leave, but defended her earlier remarks that hosts should not succumb to threats or pressure. But she drew a heavy rebuke from a caller, who accused her of shooting her own hosts, instead of criticising the people said to have threatened the popular trio - Cheng, Wong and Allen Lee Peng-fei, who took over from Cheng then quit for the same reasons.

A defiant Ms Yu replied: "Succumbing to evil forces will only fan the proliferation of evil forces."

She then abruptly pulled off her headphones, leaving her glasses dangling from one ear.

Explaining comments she made on Wednesday that the station would change its style from what she called emotional appeal to one of rationality, Ms Yu said different social eras needed different styles.

Her remarks drew a prompt response from Cheng, who asked if they wanted to wipe off all they had done over the past 10 years, when the programme became known for its anti-government style.

She replied: "At that time ... I knew we had to follow that direction. But each era has its own social background, and different societies have different needs."

Cheng replied: "What you are saying makes me feel that I've already finished my historical task."

Even on his last day, Cheng still managed to upset the government with a claim that Executive Councillor Leung Chun-ying had suggested at an Exco meeting last year that Commercial Radio's licence - then up for renewal - should be shortened. An Exco spokesman said the claim was untrue and unfounded. Mr Leung said he was angry about Cheng's "unfounded remarks", and reserved every right to pursue legal action.

Commercial Radio last July had its licence renewed for 12 years, despite speculation that it might be given only three years.

Speaking after the programme, Cheng said no other broadcasters had approached him since his contract termination became known. He said he believed the reason was more political than commercial, as he was the most popular host in town and could "lay golden eggs".

The Broadcasting Authority received seven complaints relating to Teacup in a Storm yesterday, with some listeners complaining Ms Yu had distorted the facts. Authority chairman Daniel Fung Wah-kin said the authority regarded it as a contract matter between two sides and would not intervene.

TIME LINE:

Five months of uncertainty

March Cheng discusses taking five months' leave with Commercial Radio's management. His application is approved in late April.

May 3 Cheng announces he will go off the air for several months because he feels suffocated by political repression. His stand-in host, Allen Lee Peng-fei, quits within days to avoid political intimidation.

June 22 The radio station calls Cheng, who is on holiday in Las Vegas, saying it intends to end his contract prematurely.

June 25 - Cheng receives a letter officially confirming the early end to his contract.

Mid-July Cheng contacts Commercial Radio director Winnie Yu on the matter and returns to Hong Kong.

July 27 Cheng meets Ms Yu and they agree not to publicise the termination until the deal is finalised, despite repeated leaks about it.

July 28 Ms Yu goes on air and makes the announcement, after more than 100 public figures place a newspaper advertisement demanding that the station make a clarification regarding rumours. Cheng meets the media, confirms the news and has an emotional exchange with Ms Yu on an evening talk show.

Yesterday Cheng appears on the talk show for the last time    - by Klaudia Lee   SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST    30 July 2004

HK station wants to part ways with talk show host

A local radio station is planning to terminate its contract with outspoken talk show host Albert Cheng and change the programme's adversarial style.

But Commercial Radio's move has stoked fears for media freedom in Hong Kong at a time when the territory is reeling from a controversy over recent newsroom raids.

Ms Winnie Yu, a director of the station, said that it had been in talks with Mr Albert Cheng, who hosted the popular talk show Teacup In A Storm, about the early termination of his contract, which expires in 2008.

Speaking on the programme yesterday morning, she said: 'Commercial Radio as a station would have a problem if it cannot obtain a commitment from radio hosts that they would not turn off their mikes in future. Commercial Radio cannot accept that hosts would time and again go off the air.'

She was referring to Mr Cheng's decision in May to take a break from the show. An abrasive critic of the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, he had said then that he felt 'suffocated by political repression'.

His departure was followed swiftly by those of his replacement, Mr Allen Lee, and another commentator, Mr Raymond Wong. Mr Lee, citing threats to his family, said that Mr Wong had also been intimidated into leaving his post.

Ms Yu said that in running away, the three hosts had affected the image of media freedom in Hong Kong.

She maintained that in Commercial Radio's 45 years of operations, the station had never faced pressure from the powers-that-be. Commercial Radio was established in 1959 as an alternative to government-owned broadcasters.

She also said that the combative tone of Teacup In A Storm would be changed to one which was more rational.

She said: 'The more serious the environment in Hong Kong, the more we need to rein in emotions.'

She was referring to simmering public dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong government and anger at Beijing for ruling out universal suffrage in the territory in 2007-2008.

Mr Cheng, 56, said yesterday that it was unfair of Ms Yu to blame him for eroding media freedom in Hong Kong.

He said: 'I would not have taken the break if the station had said, 'Don't run. It will affect freedom of speech'.'

Commercial Radio's decision to terminate Mr Cheng's contract early has raised questions whether it was motivated by commercial or political considerations.

Dr Timothy Wong of Chinese University said: 'It's fine for Commercial Radio to end the contract early to ensure the stability of the programme. Going off the air was a personal decision.'

However, Assistant Professor To Yiu Ming of Baptist University said the fact that the station felt it had to alter the programme's hard-hitting style reflected that it faced political pressure.

Prof To said: 'It's unfair to turn the situation around and blame Mr Cheng for eroding freedom of speech.'

The affair has affected morale at Commercial Radio with a fourth commentator, Mr Ivan Choy, saying yesterday that he was considering leaving before his agreement with the station ends on Aug 31.

Mr Choy, who was appointed as a stand-in for Mr Lee, said: 'I'm not convinced by Commercial Radio's reasons.'

Over 130 pro-democracy individuals and groups yesterday ran a notice in the Ming Pao newspaper, which read: 'Whether the matter involves political pressure or self-censorship, Commercial Radio has to explain to the public.'

The issue has intensified fears for press freedom, particularly as it followed swoops by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on seven Hong Kong newspapers last Saturday.

Yesterday, the watchdog, citing public interest, rejected a challenge by four of the newspapers for it to release to them the affidavits it had used to obtain court-approved warrants for Saturday's raids. SINGAPORE STRAITS TIMES    30 July 2004

Allen Lee in on-air clash with the radio boss who 'abandoned' him
Veteran politician and former talk-show host Allen Lee Peng-fei and Commercial Radio director Winnie Yu clashed angrily on air yesterday, with Mr Lee demanding an apology that Ms Yu refused to give.

Mr Lee accused Ms Yu of abandoning him after he had helped her, and the radio boss rejoined that the man she had once thought of as a cultured and venerable elder had turned out to be a deserter.

The exchange came on the morning talk show Teacup in a Storm, as the programme's host for 10 years, "Taipan" Albert Cheng King-hon, whose contract is being terminated, bade listeners farewell.

An emotional Mr Lee called in to attack Ms Yu over remarks she made on Wednesday that three of the station's hosts - Cheng, Mr Lee and Wong Yuk-man - had undermined freedom of speech by running away one after the other, citing political pressure.

Ms Yu also confirmed on Wednesday the station planned to terminate Cheng's contract.

Mr Lee, who took over the show after Cheng pulled out in May then quit himself, said: "I'm very disappointed with [Winnie] Yu Tsang. I think she not only owes an apology to Taipan, but also to me." Referring to her Wednesday comments, he added: "If you wanted to terminate the contract with Taipan, why didn't you just do it? Why make so many muddling remarks?

"[She criticised] us for making people feel that freedom of expression is under threat. And [suggested] that is unacceptable for Commercial Radio."

Without disclosing specifics, Mr Lee reminded Ms Yu that she had sought his help - and he had offered it - when Commercial Radio's licence was up for renewal last year.

But Ms Yu said: "On this incident, I absolutely would not apologise to you, Mr Lee, I ..."

Her reply was cut short by Mr Lee, who said: "If you don't want to apologise to me, that's it. I don't have anything to say to you."

Saying he had known many people who "take away the plank after crossing the bridge" - meaning a benefactor is abandoned once help is no longer required - he said: "I don't want to add you to my list."

Describing her as ungrateful, Mr Lee said: "I feel very sad. Just think, if you were me, Taipan or Yuk-man. The people you hurt were those who helped you."  - by Mary Kwang    South China Morning Post   30 July 2004


Radio host pledges to continue his mission

Albert Cheng says he will return, despite reports his contract is being terminated
Outspoken radio-talk-show host Albert Cheng King-hon declared yesterday he would return to the airwaves on September 28 after a four-month break, despite reports Commercial Radio is planning to end his contract prematurely.

"I have done nothing wrong and why would they want to fire me? They have assured me that they won't fire me. I have a mission to carry on," said Cheng, who quit his Teacup in a Storm phone-in show in May after saying he felt "suffocated by political repression".

Cheng told the South China Morning Post yesterday his contract with the station would not end until February 29, 2008.

Commercial Radio said Cheng was on leave until the end of September, but would not comment further.

Chinese-language newspapers reported yesterday that Commercial Radio, which has said repeatedly in the past two months that it would stand firm on protecting freedom of speech, planned to end Cheng's contract.

Sources were quoted as saying the management was unhappy with Cheng's unilateral decision to take leave.

He admitted he had talked to station managers yesterday and the question of when he would return to work was discussed. He declined to confirm whether his possible dismissal was discussed.

"They can of course fire me, if they give me the compensation required by my contract," he said.

Cheng, an outspoken critic of the rich, the powerful and Beijing, returned to the show despite almost losing his life in a brutal chopping attack in 1998.

But the political pressure became too great for him and in May he announced he was leaving the show for an unspecified period.

His departure was followed swiftly by that of stand-in Allen Lee Peng-fei, who said he felt intimidated by a call from an unidentified former mainland official asking about his "virtuous wife" and "beautiful daughter".

Mr Lee later also resigned as a deputy to the National People's Congress.

Their departures and that of fellow host Wong Yuk-man prompted a political storm and stirred fears of back door censorship by Beijing of outspoken pro-democracy figures.

A close friend of Cheng's said it seemed there had been a dispute with Commercial Radio but it was likely to have been contractual rather than political. "It is really strange for them to think they should sack Tai Pan," the friend said, using Cheng's nickname.

A politician close to Cheng said the issue was "very suspicious" and urged the station to clear up the matter.  - By Ambrose Leung      SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST    17 July 2004 

HK radio host will return to Canada

HONG KONG - Radio talk-show host Albert Cheng, who stood down after allegedly receiving threats for criticising China, has agreed to leave his job following a dispute with his bosses.

Mr Cheng, who holds Canadian citizenship, believes he has no future in Hong Kong and plans to return to Canada.

'I am finished here. I will get used to life. I will become nobody, just a man on the street, an ABC (American born Chinese). I bet that you won't even call me after two weeks,' he told The Standard paper.

He had taken a five-month sabbatical from the popular Beijing-baiting Teacup In A Storm show in May, but his future at Commercial Radio was the subject of speculation on Wednesday after station boss Winnie Yu confirmed rumours that she wanted to end his contract early.

Ms Yu said she could not accept abrupt resignations from the talk-show host time after time because this 'proves we do not have the freedom of speech, which will damage the image of Hong Kong' and would also cause a big problem for the operation of the radio station.

Mr Cheng had taken sabbaticals before because of death threats and almost lost his life in 1998 when he was stabbed six times by a gang in an attack believed to be sparked by his outspoken remarks.

He said yesterday he had accepted the resignation terms, but criticised Ms Yu.

'Freedom of speech is being threatened right now and media organisations have a responsibility to protect their presenters, instead of stripping them of their rights to speak out,' he said.

Mr Cheng may stand for a parliamentary seat in Canada, either in 2006 or later, The Standard reported.

'I am popular among the Canadian Chinese community and the Asian migrants will support me too,' he said.-- AFP   - July 30 2004 

Tea Cup in the Storm's Albert Cheng
Good morning, Hong Kong!

Outrage fills the woman's voice as she tells her tale to the radio hosts. ``My senile mother was coaxed into putting her name on the voter registration form,'' she says.

Other women call in alleging more registration-form improprieties. The hosts get Miss Poon, a representative from a community centre that submitted some of the forms under suspicion, on the line to explain. She responds with fury. ``We do not need to explain ourselves,'' Poon insists. ``How we keep our members' information is none of your business.''

The hosts of Tea Cup in the Storm push on. ``The police have already been alerted,'' warns one. Adds his partner, ``Hong Kong is listening. Please explain yourself.''

Every day, callers, radio hosts and government officials tussle like this in heated Cantonese torrents.Tea Cup and other shows are more than just open forums. Against the backdrop of impotent political parties and a toothless Legislative Council, call-in talk shows have established themselves as the most effective platform in Hong Kong for raising issues, holding the government accountable and mustering public opinion. In the past year, as politics have moved to the front burner in Hong Kong, radio call-in shows are more popular than ever.

That explains why the resignation of three high-profile radio talk show hosts last month - each alleging political pressure to get them to back off - touched off a furore that goes much deeper than worries over the state of free speech in the SAR. The hosts' status as free-wheeling champions of the people is ultimately why they would be targeted by those hoping to cool political passions.

``They are really influential,'' says Stephen Sze, who studied the media as a university researcher before becoming chief executive of the Liberal Party in February. ``They are able to form public opinion. The government pays a lot of attention.''

The hosts' power stems from the huge audience they draw. Tea Cup, the programme in which departed hosts Albert Cheng and Allen Lee held the microphone, is Hong Kong's most listened-to radio show, according to audience surveys by Marketing Decision Research (MDR) commissioned by Commercial Radio.

Commercial Radio 1, the home of Tea Cup and the absent Raymond Wong's Close Encounters of the Political Kind, is the SAR's most popular station, with an audience now equal to that of the No2 and 3 stations combined, according to Nielsen Media Research. The main audience is 25 to 44 years old, but the station is also the most listened-to by housewives, commuters, the well-educated and high-income earners, according to the MDR survey.

Not all listeners tune in by choice. The top programmes are broadcast at rush hour and secure a captive audience of morning commuters via enthralled minibus and taxi drivers. The brash obnoxiousness of some top hosts annoys and amuses as much as it inspires. ``For the radio audience, talk shows can be considered as constituting a form of politically significant infotainment,'' says Francis Lee, a City University communications professor, in an unpublished paper.

``I think they are a load of nonsense. The loudest ones are usually the selfish ones, speaking out for their own self-promoting purposes, says a balding Kowloon commuter. ``Having said that, I'm still interested in them because they are entertaining.''

Many would agree that the jarring, abrasive style of political talk radio is driven by an aggressively masculine impulse. The majority of both hosts and callers are men. Audrey Eu, the solicitor-legislator who hosts a weekend current affairs show, is one of very few female hosts.

``Men are more suited to on-air combat than women, probably because they are more full of themselves and tend to be more arrogant,'' speculates Gene Mustain, a Hong Kong University journalism professor. ``Compared to women, they are more likely to think it is important for their opinions to be heard.''

Fast-talking, overbearing, at times subtly mocking but more often viciously hostile, Cheng and Wong relish pushing discussions over the edge into heated brawls. Callers and officials alike face disdain, disconnection and being labelled ``idiots'' and ``dogs'' for not agreeing with the hosts.

Tea Cup has toned down just a few notches in Cheng's absence. On Wednesday morning, host Peter Lam and guest-host Leung Man-tao mocked the speaking style of mainland officials who had recently visited the SAR and duelled with each other and two legislators for speaking time, making for a roar of machismo as riotous as a triad street fight.

Call-in programmes rule the airwaves beyond Commercial Radio 1, too. Talkabout, a morning call-in programme that goes head-to-head with Tea Cup, is the top show for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the SAR's government-owned broadcaster.

The call-in programmes on RTHK are notably calmer than those on Commercial Radio 1 and generally draw a slightly older crowd, aged 35 and over, according to RTHK. Talkabout hosts Robert Chow and Ng Chi-sum are milder, more sober and less judgmental, but the on-air atmosphere is no less animated.

Here, more priority is given to callers. Anyone is allowed to speak on anything, contradict the hosts and correct each other's logic. ``Having police officers protect protesters is a complete waste of taxpayers' money,'' rants one. ``The DAB is retarded in demanding that Albert Cheng and Raymond Wong appear in court,'' says another in reference to the leading pro-Beijing political party.

The Liberal Party's Sze says the RTHK programmes provide a needed balance, with appropriate fairness and sensitivity to the government's viewpoint. Those aren't values you can take to the bank, he admits. ``It's not easy for pro-communist or more moderate programmes,'' Sze says. ``The milder ones tend not to be that interesting.''

Overall, call-in shows command the highest ad rates in radio, drawing top advertisers of all types despite their controversial content, says Mabel Leung, general manager of media-buying firm Starcom MediaVest Hong Kong.

``They've always been the key programmes on the various channels,'' she says.

Listeners took quickly to the call-in format when RTHK first introduced the format in Hong Kong's about 35 years ago. As much as the government is seen as aloof and unresponsive today, it has come a long way since those days when residents were given their first chance to take grievances about rubbish piles and the like to government officials live on the air.

Call-in shows turned political for the first time amid anxieties over Sino-British negotiations on Hong Kong's future in the 1980s. Cheng and Wong started their climb to the top of the ratings a decade ago after debuting their no-holds-barred style on ATV's short-lived but popular News Tease programme as tensions with Beijing grew over Governor Chris Patten's democratic reforms. Even listeners in Guangdong began calling in and some mainland radio stations started their own call-in shows.

Most Hong Kong newspapers have no letters section and only run opinion columns by established commentators. By contrast, radio callers can sound off about anything from misleading road signs to communist disinformation almost as fast as they can dial a phone number.

``People feel it's very convenient,'' says Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City U. ``Radio programmes are probably the most effective means of allowing ordinary people to articulate their views on public policies.''

Indeed, in a survey by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, the number of SAR residents who rated radio programmes as the most effective channel to express public opinion equalled those who nominated newspaper forums, Legco offices or government departments combined even though fewer residents listen to the radio than watch TV or read newspapers.

The government, led by the Information Services Department's (ISD) media research unit, pays close attention to what's said on the programmes, both as a gauge of public opinion and to respond to complaints. ISD staff ring up departments whose work is under discussion to make sure they are tuned in and able to respond if possible before the programme finishes. ``We attach a lot of importance to reacting to what is in the media,'' says Tam Sik-yeung, ISD assistant director.

``There are a lot of people listening,'' Joseph Cheng says. ``It's terribly embarrassing if you don't respond.''

Past victims are expected to return for more punishment. Hospital Authority director Ko Wing-nam appeared on Tea Cup in December to respond to complaints about insurance policies for government medical workers despite an appearance months before when Albert Cheng had cut him off brusquely so many times that Commercial Radio earned a rebuke from the Broadcasting Authority.

Issues raised on the call-in shows and the discussions themselves started setting the agenda for newspapers, TV news programmes and Legco speeches long before the current resignation uproar. ``Instead of generating critical viewpoints by themselves (for example, through people-on-the-street interviews), news reporters can simply rely on talk radio for the materials,'' says City U's Francis Lee.

``The result is that an informal alliance and a certain division of labour was formed between the mainstream press and talk radio, with the latter taking up a large part of the watchdog function from the former, and therefore becoming a symbol of press freedom in the city.''

The shows have also become a primary means of participating in the political process, prompting Chinese University communications professors Joseph Man Chan and Clement So to coin the term ``surrogate democracy''.

``The media takes over the role of Legco to some extent because Legco is not functioning well,'' So says.

Yet, in the end, talk radio callers are as helpless to affect government policymaking as any other institution under the sacrosanct ``executive-led'' system.

``People are willing to express their view toward government policy,'' says Li Pang-kwong, a Lingnan University politics professor who appears weekly as a call-in host on RTHK for seven years. ``At least they can express their view and be satisfied emotionally.''

They have to take satisfaction from venting alone since government leaders don't seek talk radio's input. ``Certainly it's not influential in terms of policy making,'' Li says.

But the programmes do fill some of the role political parties might occupy in a real democracy.

``The impact on the general public is very great,'' says Wong Yiu-chung, Li's colleague at Lingnan. ``Some of my relatives were previously apathetic to politics,'' but catalysed by the call-in shows, they took to the streets last July 1.

Those days marked a new peak of radio show power. Albert Cheng and Raymond Wong in particular relentlessly hammered government bungling of the Sars outbreak and the dangers of the proposed Article 23 anti-sedition law. Commercial Radio's leading market share climbed 27 per cent as the year progressed, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The Sars outbreak showed the hosts' unsurpassed power to channel public demand for government accountability. This started with their role as a whistleblower's haven. In mid-April, for example, a female staffer named Leung from Yan Chai Hospital called into a programme to say the Hospital Authority had begun sending Sars patients to the hospital's intensive care unit without giving staff any guidelines on treatment or stocking adequate protective gear. The Hospital Authority's Ko Wing-nam responded that day that he would send someone to investigate.

``Our health system could have collapsed if the media had not been monitoring the government closely,'' Albert Cheng said after the epidemic passed.

Hong Kong's populace, discontent over soaring unemployment and official clumsiness, shocked the world when half a million responded to calls by Albert Cheng, Raymond Wong and others to march last July 1. Two-thirds of respondents to a university survey afterward said they had joined the protest because of appeals by call-in hosts and certain newspapers.

Albert Cheng, though, took himself off the air just before July 1 in response to the Broadcasting Authority's warning to Commercial Radio over his on-air abuse of Ko and Lau Kai-hung of the Housing Department. The same authority session also rapped Commercial Radio for crude language on Raymond Wong's programme.

That session aside, neither the Broadcasting Authority nor the courts have set many official obstacles in the way of rampaging radio hosts. The authority has dismissed dozens of complaints under the official ``Radio Code of Practice'' against radio hosts for foul language, abusive treatment of guests and callers, bias and unfair screening of calls with only a rare reprimand.

Albert Cheng also previously won a decision from the Court of Final Appeals in a defamation case. On the other hand, the government reassigned then RTHK Broadcasting Director Cheung Man-yee to Japan after a Taiwanese government representative appeared on a call-in show to discuss controversial ideas about cross-Strait relations in 1999.

Still, hosts view neither the legal system nor the administration as curbing their content. ``I don't feel scared over what to say,'' says Li.

The real threat, as indicated by the enigmatic comments of the departed hosts and past violent assaults against Albert Cheng and Raymond Wong, comes from those with no patience for due process. Both Albert Cheng and Raymond Wong have said they will return to the air eventually. Whether they may have to do so from some remote ``Radio Free Hong Kong'' with calls patched through to the territory remains an open question.

Stay tuned.       - By Zach Coleman and Sylvia Hui       WEEKEND STANDARD       5 June 2004

Radio host to take breather from 'suffocating' climate
Albert Cheng says he'll go off air to seek relief from the depressing political situation

Outspoken radio talk-show host Albert Cheng King-hon says he will go off air for several months because he feels "suffocated" in the current political climate.

He also said he was considering retirement.

The move comes a month after his office was vandalised and amid "daily" death threats - but Cheng said these had nothing to do with his decision. Reports said Cheng had been pressured to go off air, but the host of Commercial Radio's Teacup in a Storm yesterday said he wanted to take a long break because he was depressed about the situation in Hong Kong.

"The political climate makes you feel suffocated. There's so much pressure - the slanted media, the savage Hong Kong government and tyrannical central government. It's so depressing.

"But my decision has got nothing to do with the [vandalism] incident. No violence can intimidate me. I would not go off air because of violent threats," he said.

Cheng, who is also a South China Morning Post columnist, described the vandalism as a kind of "pollution" to the political climate. He had said earlier that he believed the attack was related to his public comments rather than business disputes as few people knew he was a shareholder in the firm whose premises were vandalised. He added that he received daily death threats over the past two months from people who wanted to silence his criticism of the government.

In the vandalism attack on March 31, three men went to Cheng's trading company on the 20th floor of Kodak House, North Point, and splashed red paint over the premises. No one has been arrested.

The talk-show host, who is now provided with police protection when needed, said he would think about his long-term plan during his holiday - and retirement would be one of the options. Cheng said his wife had been asking him to quit ever since he was seriously injured in a chopper attack in 1998.

Cheng said he had to sort out arrangements for substitute hosts before he could finalise the details of his holiday. "But I've promised Commercial Radio to return before the end of the year," he said.

He said he would make an announcement about his long break in his programme next week.

A Commercial Radio spokeswoman declined to comment about speculation that Cheng was pressured to go off air.

Cheng's column will continue to appear on the Post's Insight page every Monday - by Stella Lee      29 Apr 2004        South China Morning Post 

Free speech warrior, dot-com entrepreneur    

Broadcaster Albert Cheng refuses to let a deadly assault keep him down  

HONG KONG - Albert Cheng refuses to be intimidated, even though his outspoken views almost killed him.

The controversial radio talk-show host remains bombastic as ever, giving no quarter to people he criticizes on his top-rated daily program, Tempest In A Teapot.

"When do you draw the boundary?" said the former Vancouver resident, a successful entrepreneur as well as Hong Kong's best-known broadcaster, whose commentaries are also heard weekdays on Vancouver's AM 1320 CHMB Radio.

"You either do it wholeheartedly, or you don't do it at all. Even if you pull your punches, you'll still piss somebody off."

Cheng survived a murder attempt here two years ago, when he was attacked outside the radio station by two unknown assailants wielding a meat cleaver and carving knife.

He suffered six deep wounds to his arms, back and right leg, requiring eight hours of surgery to reconnect muscle, bone and nerve tissue.

Doctors said if the ambulance had arrived 10 minutes later, or the cuts had been any deeper, he would have died.

Yet, he was more concerned over losing face.

"My regret is that I lost my self-esteem, to be lying in a pool of blood brought down by two low-lifes," he said.

Today, Cheng walks with a limp, there is no feeling in his foot, he can no longer grip with his left hand and while the fingers in his right hand have strength, he can't fully extend them.

An $800,000 Cdn reward is still offered for information leading to the arrest of the assailants. Police caught the driver of the getaway car, who served five months in jail, but he refused to identify Cheng's attackers.

"I have to admit that the deadly experience still haunts me from time to time," said Cheng, named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in post-handover Hong Kong.

"I am displeased by what has happened to me and its impact on those who are consciously working to uphold the freedom of speech. However, I am determined that nothing could have changed my life, and I would not be intimidated by cowardly acts of violence.

"I will continue to fight for the freedom of speech and general interests of Hong Kong, though I will be more cautious."

After spending mornings skewering local politicians, Beijing leaders and business tycoons on his radio show, Cheng switches over to entrepreneurial mode at the Quarry Bay offices of Cyber Communications Corp. Ltd., which he founded four years ago.

More recently, Cheng launched 36.com, listing the new company in August on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where the initial public offering raised $20 million Cdn.

Executive-director Cheng is the largest single shareholder with 25 per cent, while other "blue-chip" investors include tycoon Richard Li's Pacific Century Group.

A month before his Aug. 9, 1998, attack, Cheng had taken his wife, Irene -- a former Miss Hong Kong -- and their three young sons for a vacation in Vancouver, which included an Alaskan cruise.

He also visited the B.C. legislature as the special guest of then-premier Glen Clark, who introduced Cheng in the house and later sought his advice on how to woo Asian investors back to B.C.

Cheng frequently muses about moving back to Canada, where he lived for 15 years, working as an aircraft engineer for Canadian Airlines International. In 1979, he was one of the founders of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver.

After returning to his native Hong Kong in 1983, Cheng established a publishing empire here, including a Chinese edition of Playboy magazine, under licence with Hugh Hefner's Playboy Inc. He later sold the rights for a tidy sum.

Cheng expresses strong views on why Canada has an ongoing brain-drain problem and why B.C. isn't particularly attractive to Asians any more.

"Many Hong Kong immigrants got a taste of Canada and left frustrated after accomplishing little. Back in Hong Kong, people with skills will always have a job at much higher salaries than B.C. Even if you graduate from Harvard, can you get a job today in Vancouver?

"MBA [master of business administration] graduates from Harvard can land a job paying $150,000 US a year, guaranteed. If you graduate from UBC, you might not get a job period.

"Bright kids wind up going to Silicon Valley or Hong Kong. There's more stress here, but the return is substantial."

In addition to dismal job prospects, high taxes and the federal government's controversial foreign assets reporting law have contributed to driving Asians home, or causing them to avoid Canada, Cheng said.

Meanwhile, B.C. has recently developed a reputation for being unsafe.

"People feel safer in Hong Kong after hearing of car hijackings, break-ins, home invasions and kidnapping incidents around the Lower Mainland," Cheng said.

"Nobody wants to go there, not even retirees. If it's not safe any more, who wants to go there? Vancouver is no longer attractive for Hong Kong people except as a vacation destination."

Vancouver, Cheng noted, is now more suitable for immigrants from China because they have lower expectations than those from Hong Kong or Singapore.

And the renewed influx of Taiwanese immigrants to B.C. has more to do with political instability in Taiwan rather than a genuine desire to live in B.C., which is attracting Taiwanese by default because Vancouver is cheaper than more preferred destinations such as Los Angeles or San Francisco, he said.

"B.C. needs a strong local economy to sustain a healthy real estate market, which can't always be propped up by Asians. The resale housing market is limited."

As Hong Kong residents have gained more confidence in the territory since the 1997 handover, they no longer feel the need to move, Cheng said.

"This is still the most preferred place for Chinese people all over the world, in terms of lifestyle, opportunities, everything," he said.

"I still love Vancouver and will come back eventually, but I don't think my kids have a future there."  - by Wyng Chow     Vancouver Sun

Dotcoms may be caught in web of copyright law

News portal 36.com has warned investors it could face a litany of legal claims relating to its content, some of which was gathered from other Web sites without permission.

The warning by the newly listed Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) company highlights the potential legal risks faced by many prominent news portals that are known to "aggregate" content from other Web sites without seeking permission.

As one of its services, 36.com collects news and information from other portals, then edits and repackages it for its own viewers.

In its listing prospectus, the company said that "there is a risk that claims may be made against [36.com] for defamation, negligence, copyright or trademark infringement or other claims based on the nature and content of such material"

Sources from 36.com said that the company monitored more than 30 news portals a day to aggregate information for its own use.

Notably, 36.com's instant news services seldom attribute reports to any of those portals.

Aggregating content in this way could expose the company to a range of legal claims, such as copyright and trademark infringement.

As with many other portals, 36.com also could be held liable for content carried by Web sites which are hyperlinked to its portal.

The company disclosed it might not be insured against potential claims of this nature. "Any imposition of liability that is not covered by any insurance could have a material adverse impact on the company's business, results of operations and financial conditions," the prospectus said.

GEM-listed Hongkong.com also warned in its listing prospectus that its insurance might not cover potential claims relating to its content.

"The group may be liable for information retrieved from its portal network," Hongkong.com, a subsidiary of Chinadotcom, said in its listing prospectus.

Hutchison group Internet unit Tom.com, which is also listed on GEM, cautioned that the company's content business was exposed to future legislation governing the Internet.

"It is possible that the legislature may introduce new laws with respect to the business covering issues such as content, copyright, distribution and quality of services and products," Tom.com said in its prospectus.

It also said the introduction of any new laws and regulations could restrict Tom.com's Internet and e-commerce business and lead to an increase in compliance costs.

"For instance, if the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority should decide to extend its jurisdiction to include the Internet, Tom's business might be adversely affected," the company said.

Even chat-room services operated by 36.com might be held liable under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance if obscene articles are published or imported on its portal networks.

  
Albert Cheng, co-founder of 36.com

However, 36.com co-founder and content adviser Albert Cheng said the potential risks of such legal claims were slim.

"We stated those risks in our prospectus only because the stock exchange required us to do so. If it was up to me, I would have left them out," Mr Cheng said.

36.com co-founder and chief technology officer Max Poon said the company had built a monitoring system to ensure its content would be free from any legal claims.

"It is not only us; other Internet portals have stated similar risks in their prospectuses," Mr Cheng said.

However, not all have done so. HKCyber Holdings, which debuts on the GEM today, did not include potential risks of legal claims in its prospectus.

36.com saw its shares dive 19.4 per cent to 29 HK cents on their trading debut on Friday. The company issued 280 million shares at 36 HK cents each.  -    2000 July 31     South China Morning Post      

 


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