Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Blatant Switch

Stephen Chan is not only chief executive of Commercial Radio but host too
Last night as I sat down to dinner in a hotel restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui east, across from us was Stephen Chan Chi-wan, head of Commercial Radio and now morning show radio host.

He looked jovial with his dining partner as they powered through dinner and left before we did even though they sat down after us.

Nevertheless he is currently in the hot seat after he removed popular morning show talk show host Lee Wei-ling with himself and placed her in the evening slot starting on Monday.

Lee is a well-known government critic and very popular. However, there are rumours that part of the deal for Commercial Radio to renew its broadcast license in 2016 was to remove Lee from the prime-time morning show, though the station denies this.

Not only was that an outrage, but how Chan did it which is even more out of line.

Oh Monday during her debut on her evening program, Lee claimed chief executive Chan had threatened to fire her in a series of text messages if she did not accept the new position.

"At one point, he said that if I did not go to the press conference that day [announcing the change], he would have no choice but to fire me," Lee said on Monday evening during her show with co-host Elizabeth Wong Kit-wai.

However Chan said the message, which said he would "have no option but to end our contractual relationship" if she did not take the evening hosting duties, was an attempt to ensure she confirmed arrangements for a meeting and press conference.

"Briefing her on the new assignment in my office, I felt that she was comfortable accepting it -- and had agreed to attend a working meeting and a press conference scheduled for the afternoon," Chan said.

However later on Friday he could not get in touch with her and sent her a text message at 2.39pm demanding that she get back to him by 3pm. And if she did not, he texted that he would consider that she had rejected the new assignment.

"Management-wise I needed to know," Chan said. "If she was not accepting the move I would have to explain it to the media."

In the end Lee did reply 14 minutes later that she accepted the new job, but would not attend the press conference.

Chan says Lee was moved for strategic and administrative reasons (how much more vague can one get!), but Lee believes it was politically motivated.

"I do not think it would be surprising to conclude Leung Chun-ying's administration dislikes me," Lee said, adding that government officials had "warned" her to "be careful of her job".

Lee said she "lost control" after being told of the move and didn't want to attend the press conference as she was "emotionally reluctant to face my bosses" and "did not want to cry in front of the public".

While she admitted it would be "difficult" to continue as a presenter, she felt "obliged to uphold freedom of speech". "I hope the public will stand by my side," she said.

The way Chan went about the shuffling Lee around may have been a ploy to rush her into a situation where she didn't have enough time to think things through so he could still retain her for her popularity but just not have her in the prime-time slot.

Either way he did it in the most insensitive way possible -- but then again many bosses in Hong Kong can be like this in order to have their cake and and eat it too. What he did was threatening and possibly illegal. Who gives someone 21 minutes to decide whether they want to keep their job or not?

In the end Lee is now in a difficult position, but much like Ricky Wong Wai-kay, whose HKTV failed in its bid for a free-to-air TV license, she will become yet another defiant hero in the eyes of Hong Kong people.

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