The trial of a group running the free station Citizens' Radio and those accused of contributing to the illegal output has been postponed, as the prosecutor announced that the investigation continued and more defendants might be brought before the court.
A hearing originally due for 18 November was adjourned until 15 December. Tsang Kin-shing, Lo Chau, Poon Tat-keung, Chan Miu-tak and Yang Xuang all face prison sentences.
Reporters Without Borders regrets that the Hong Kong justice system has not dropped the charges against the accused, whose only crime has been to try to bring a little more pluralism onto the airwaves.
Rebel radio station presenters could get prison terms in trial
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the methods being used by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) in Hong Kong in its all-out bid to close down Citizens' Radio, a radio station that continues to broadcast on the Internet and, sometimes, on the airwaves despite arrests and seizures of equipment. Some of its presenters could even receive prison sentences in a trial that begins this week.
“It is true that the presenters of Citizens' Radio are breaking the law, as they are broadcasting without a licence, but it would be shocking if they got a prison sentence or heavy fine,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Their sole aim is to increase media pluralism in Hong Kong. The Special Administrative Region's authorities should instead be asking themselves how they could ensure more diversity on the airwaves, even if it means letting dissidents express themselves.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We support the Hong Kong Journalists Association's appeal to the judicial authorities to drop the charges against the four defendants and return the seized equipment.”
Target of harassment
The trial of Citizens' Radio presenters Tsang Kin-shing and Chan Miu-tak and two other persons is due to open on 17 November before a Hong Kong criminal court. They face fines of up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars (5,000 euros) and jail terms of up to two years for “unauthorised possession of broadcasting equipment.”
When they broadcast on the FM wave band on 18 October, they decided out of bravado or honesty to install their transmitter outside OFTA headquarters on Queen's Road East in Wan Chai. OFTA stopped the broadcasting after 30 minutes. “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, a parliamentarian who said he heads the company that owns the broadcasting equipment, was arrested. Tsang, who is a municipal councillor for Eastern District, was also taken to a police station. The police previously seized equipment on 13 October.
The police and OFTA representatives raided the premises where Citizens' Radio produces its programmes on 29 August, closing the station down and arresting the flat's owner, Chan Miu-tak. Two other persons suspected of activities in violation of OFTA regulations were given warnings. Equipment was seized, but Internet broadcasting was able to resume.
Citizens' Radio applied for an FM broadcasting licence in 2005 but never received a positive answer. The presenters began broadcasting on 102.8 FM on 3 October 2005, encroaching on the frequence of radio Metro Finance. They recognised they were breaking the law. After Tsang was arrested for the first time, Leung (who had taken part in the broadcasts) raised the issue of opening-up the airwaves during a session of the Hong Kong parliament later that month.
While refusing to “attack any radio in particular,” Tsang claims that “12 radio stations take up more frequencies than they need.” He turned down the offer of an AM frequency on the grounds that most radio sets only receive FM. He broadcast using transmitters and antenna on the back of a truck or set up clandestinely in the hills overlooking Hong Kong and activated at a distance by means of mobile phones. Internet broadcasts were every weekday from 7 to 8 pm while FM broadcasts, which reached both Hong Kong and Kowloon, were reserved for special occasions.
Hong Kong radio stations
Three groups - Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Commercial Radio Hong Kong and Metro Broadcast - own Hong Kong's radio stations. RTHK, which is state-owned, controls RTHK1, RTHK2, RTHK3, RTHK4, RTHK5 and the Mandarin-language RTHK Putonghua. Commercial Radio Hong Kong owns CR1 (Supercharged 881) and CR2 (Ultimate 903). Metro owns Metro Showbiz and Metro Finance. This gives a total of 10 stations (of which only four are privately-owned) for seven million inhabitants.
Because of the terrain, each station broadcasts on several frequencies in order to reach the entire territory. The 11 mainland Chinese stations that are received in Kong Hong means that a total of 72 of the 100 available frequencies are used. There could be much more FM radio diversity in Hong Kong as just 20 radio stations monopolize almost all the spectrum. Yet, although frequencies are still available, the government refuses to grant licences.