Sunday, October 12, 2008

Albert Cheng

Albert Jinghan Cheng , nicknamed Tai-Pan was the member of the of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. He was formerly a popular current affairs commentator in Commercial Radio Hong Kong, and has left the job after an incident of alleged intimidation against him and a serious dispute with his former employer. After Donald Tsang became Chief Executive of Hong Kong, he announced that he will refuse future attendance of the round-table-meetings of the pro-democracy camp.

Personal life

Cheng was born in Hong Kong to a family which has roots in Chaozhou, Guangdong. His family has no notable political background. He studied at Kowloon Technical School, a government-funded vocational school. He later pursued his undergraduate degree in engineering and worked as an aircraft maintenance engineer.

Cheng left Hong Kong for Canada in 1968 after witnessing the Cultural Revolution in China. In 1971, he married with a popular Hong Kong singer, Paula Tsui but they broke up later. In 1987, he married Irene Lo Kam-sheung , a former winner of Miss Hong Kong Pageant contest.

Publishing and radio career

Albert Cheng was particularly concerned with social injustice and government incompetence. In his programme, he used to take the following action after receiving complaints from his audience: he called the alleged wrong-doer to ask for a response and pressed them to take remedial measures.

After the reunification of Hong Kong with the People' s Republic of China, he was dissatisfied with many policies of the . As he believed the HKSAR government was not performing satisfactorily his comments became more assertive and aggressive and he continued calling on the Chief Executive Mr.Tung Chee-hwa and his principal officials to resign.

He was popular with his radio audience, and was rated as one of the 25 most influential Hong Kong people in 1997' s poll and named as one of the Asia's Stars by BusinessWeek in 1998. He was informally named "Chief Executive before Ten" as "Teacup in the Storm" was broadcast from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.


Some of his comments nearly claimed his life. On August 19, 1998, Cheng was attacked by two assailants wielding a meat cleaver and carving knife. He received seven deep knife wounds outside the Commercial Radio Headquarters. The six deep wounds were on his arms, back, and right leg. It required eight hours of surgery to reconnect muscles, bones and nerve tissues. Doctors said if the ambulance had arrived 10 minutes later, or the cut had been any deeper, he would have died.

After the surgery, Cheng walked with a limp without any feeling in his foot. He could no longer grip with his left hand. Although his fingers in his right hand could exert strength, he cannot fully extend them. An $800,000 reward was posted for any relevant information reported about the case. Police caught the driver of the getaway car, who served five months in jail, but he refused to identify Cheng's attackers.

Many believed that Cheng's frequent criticism of certain individuals, especially those with connections or underground power, caused his attack.

After undergoing intensive physiotherapy and necessary medical treatment he allegedly returned to the Commercial Radio with a wounded leg.

Criticism and praise during the SARS crisis

In April 2003, there was a SARS outbreak in Hong Kong. Cheng harshly condemned Dr Ko Wing Man , then acting Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority, as failing to take effective measures to protect the public from the deadly disease. Dr Ko burst into tears while the programme was still on air.

After that, numerous medical professionals wrote to the Broadcasting Authority, complaining that Cheng had behaved unfairly and had exhibited a bias towards Dr. Ko. Subsequent spotlights intensified over Cheng's controversial and sensational style of hosting, in which many argued, resulted in him spending most of the air time talking, and as a result hampering and restricting callers as well as guests, from defending or explaining themselves.

However, he also initiated the "Do wear mask" campaign for fund-raising and collecting materials for medical professionals, SARS victims and their families. He also reflected the demands of medical professionals, urging prompt government actions on the crisis, and strengthening communication between government officials and citizens. He received an "Against SARS Award" in August 2003. He actively participated in the campaign of "Protecting Victoria Harbour" and well as achieving his goal of acquiring on behalf and for a number of elderly pensioners.

Allegations of suppression of freedom of speech

There was a public belief that Cheng, through his phone-in radio programme, wielded too much power and public influence. In early 2004, Cheng's show went on hiatus, with Cheng claiming that he and two other political talk show hosts - Wong Yuk-man and Allen Li Peng-fei - had been threatened by certain individuals with connections to the People's Republic of China government. The hiatus of the three most famous political talk show hosts in Hong Kong stirred waves of controversy.

There were also moves to monitor the radio broadcasting of both and Albert Cheng. Winnie Yu, the president of Commercial Radio, invited Tony Tsoi as her right-hand man, who in turn employed Leung Man To and Martin Oei to monitor the radio broadcasting of Wong Yuk-man and Albert Cheng respectively. Half of the broadcasting hours of Albert Cheng were trimmed, to make way for a new programme hosted by another person connected with Winnie Yu, as well as Teresa Mo.

After the initial waves of controversy had calmed down, another wave started when Winnie Yu decided to terminate Cheng's contract and called Allen Li Peng-fei a coward.

Mystery on suppression of freedom of speech again

In April 2004, Albert Cheng claimed that he was pressured by persons with obscure backgrounds over the past four years, telling him to stop criticising the government. Those veiled threats he claimed, petrified not only him but also his family. As a result, he requested a five-month vacation.

However, in July 2004, Ms Winnie Yu revealed an early settlement of Cheng's contract. She criticised that Cheng had always taken leave at his own convenience and that he could not guarantee the same thing would not happen again. She therefore concluded that it was a violation of the contracted terms. In addition, she said the fact that the hosts were running away one after another would destroy the freedom of speech. She could not accept it because it would have ruined the image of Hong Kong. Subsequently, she was determined to terminate Cheng's contract early.

In spite of the ceasing of their working relationship, Albert has commented that he had been "very happy" during his 10 years as a radio host in . The affair has not affected his friendship with Winnie Yu.

Surmounting election barrier

Cheng's departure exacerbated a wide-spread rumour that he was planning ahead to contest for a directly-elected seat in LegCo Election 2004. He was reported to have been applying for a cancellation of his Canadian passport for election purpose .

Later on, the truth was unveiled and the rumour verified. Cheng announced his decision to run for the election. There were, however, obstacles to this decision.

A lot had happened before his election in Legco. His former employer Commercial Radio questioned whether it was appropriate for him to be a Legco candidate given he was a former media worker. Most seriously, Cheng disclosed that he was prevented by Winnie Yu from participating in the election. He told the media that she had approached him, telling him that he could have his contract renewed if he dropped the decision to enter the election. "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." Cheng said.

Winnie Yu had denied the accusation. She said the radio station did not receive any political pressure. "That is a big misunderstanding", she commented on the allegation. Nevertheless, Cheng had reported the case to . Ms Winnie Yu said Cheng had told Mr Tsoi Tung Ho, Tony , the then chief operating officer, in mid-June that he was considering standing for election. She said that he had to choose whether to keep the contract or stand 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." Later, Cheng's contract was formally terminated on June 25. It was alleged to have been issued by a law firm on behalf of the Commercial Radio station and delivered to Cheng while he was still in Canada.

Ms Yu said it was fair that the contract would become invalid if Cheng had 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."

Cheng said in his regular column in Ming Pao Weekly that Teacup would no longer be the "cup of tea of ordinary people" if it was full of rational analysis and without emotional input. No matter what the programme's new approach is, Cheng's Teacup has come to an end.

Passion in politics

Cheng promised his voters that he would walk with them, no matter whether it is a sunny, cloudy or rainy day. There were certain issues, which were quite important to the livelihood of lower income group, like promising to improve conditions for public housing tenants and push through development project. He proposed the prompt urban renewal of Yue Man Square in Kwun Tong, first proposed in 1981, and the relocation of the residents to vacant public housing flats in the area. In addition, he proposed that the former Kai Tak Airport site should be turned into the largest urban park in Kowloon, while a Fisherman's Wharf should be built at Lei Yue Mun to attract tourists and stimulate the Kowloon East economy. The most important thing is that he would continue his tough-talking style. He was elected mainly because he is a fresh element that will increase interest and the motivation of voters to participate, as referred by political scientist Ivan Choy, who taught at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

As a lawmaker

Media attention was then directed to speculation on which constituency Cheng would compete in. As a matter of fact, even Cheng himself was swinging between New Territories West or Kowloon East constituency.

At the beginning, , a veteran local politician, was reportedly found to approach Cheng, discussing about a possible election partnership in New Territories West. But politics changed very quickly. Cheng was then determined to contest in Kowloon East constituency, where he partnered with Andrew To Kwan-hang , a district councillor of Wong Tai Sin constituency and a member of .

Albert Cheng not only had to compete hard against pro-Beijing candidates but also pro-democracy ones. In Kowloon East Constituency, there were two pro-Beijing lists, one headed by unionist Chan Yuen-han and another by Chan Kam-lam, both were influential members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong . Democrat led Wu Chi-wai and Ho Wai-to to contest in the constituency. Apart from Fred Li' s list, Cheng also faced with the challenge from , a senior counsel rose to popularity during the Basic Law controversy.

During his campaign in Sau Mau Ping, he encountered threats of violence and offensive statements about him by more than 100 elderly people. He criticised the behavior of those people and said it was "the darkest day in Hong Kong".

Even though competition within the pro-democracy camp was fierce, Albert Cheng won overwhelmingly on the election day. Of a total of 293,702 valid votes in the Kowloon East constituency, Cheng' s list received 73,424, accounted to around 40%. His triumph was believably attributable to his populist campaign platform and possession of a strong grassroot support. His principles include championing social justice, supervising government to prevent corruption and upholding freedom of speech and human rights.

On September 21, 2004, he told reporters that he would retire at the end of LegCo 2007. After that, on September 29, 2008, he started a new TV programme 也文也武 on ATV Home with HD4.

Life as a columnist

Albert Cheng also writes a column in the South China Morning Post. His column can be found in the Insight page of the Post. The content of the column is normally related to current affairs in Hong Kong. The readers can even have a live interactive internet session with him at certain times.

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