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Interview with Allen Zeng

Recap of China’s most important events in 2005.

Allen Zeng is the president of the Sound of Hope Radio Network (SOH). The following is from a Chinascope interview with Mr. Zeng

CS: Please give us a "heads up" on your new initiative with Radio Free China.

Zeng: The Radio Free China initiative at SOH aims to provide the Chinese public access to uncensored, free information. It aims at becoming the most reliable information source for the Chinese people, especially at critical periods of history. It will help to promote, in China, freedom of information, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.

The project includes three dynamic fronts for information access. The first is shortwave radio broadcasting. It can cover a vast area and most of the Chinese population. We would like to add more channels and to use more powerful transmitters so that the Chinese regime cannot effectively jam our signal.

The second is Internet access of the SOH programs for the 100 million Chinese online users. We provide advanced Internet access programs for Chinese users to evade the Chinese regime’s blockade. Once they download our program they can safely visit our website for content-rich audio and text files.

The third is satellite radio broadcasting to China, which we plan to launch very soon.

CS: Radio broadcasting is an expensive operation. How will you fund it?

Zeng: SOH is a not-for-profit company. Our funding comes from three major sources: private donations, air-time advertisements, and program sponsorships. Most of our employees are volunteers and they save us a lot of money in salary expenses, but that won’t show on the balance sheet.

CS: Given the existence of such big players as VOA and RFA in the field of broadcasting to China, why would SOH want to squeeze into this crowded business?

Zeng: I disagree with that. This is not a crowded field. Rather, the Chinese people are underserved. The 1.3 billion Chinese don’t have their own voice because the Communist Party maintains tight control over the Chinese media. The people have very limited sources for uncensored information. Even the Internet is constantly censored and monitored by the government. We acknowledge the presence of VOA and RFA, and I appreciate their work. However, we believe that SOH is unique in its value to the Chinese people.
CS: Could you please explain how SOH is unique?

Zeng: First, SOH is the first international Chinese radio network founded by Chinese people independent of any government. It is a totally grass roots initiative by and for Chinese people. VOA and RFA were established by the American Congress.

Second, SOH has a broader scope than simple news broadcasting. SOH offers a variety of cultural programs that reconnect the Chinese people to their culture, history, and traditional values, and bring them wisdom and food for thought and self-examination.

Third, SOH has a uniquely motivated and highly qualified team of volunteers. Most of them grew up in China and were educated first in China and then in America. They understand both the Chinese and American societies; appreciate the values of freedom, human rights, and democracy; and are keenly aware of the Communist Party’s tactics and nature. This team is our invaluable asset and our source of strength.
Fourth, because our staff members have deep roots in China, our reporters also have extensive networks there and can obtain Chinese news and facts efficiently. They understand precisely the feelings and concerns of the Chinese people, so they make good programs that meet Chinese needs and interests.

CS: What are your major challenges?

Zeng: My number one challenge is funding. As a new company, our advertising sales and program sponsorships have yet to reach a level able to sustain our operations. Currently we rely on private donations a great deal, but that cannot be our long-term solution. We are also applying for grants from various agencies and hope for a breakthrough soon.

Because of funding difficulties, most of our employees get no remuneration for working for SOH. They have to have another, paid job to make a living. They work very hard because they are motivated by a good cause, but in the long run I would like to have enough funds to pay them salaries. That way they would be able to spend more time and energy producing more and better programs.

We at SOH are confident that we will be able to overcome the challenges and that our network will thrive. We are encouraged and inspired by the many feedback messages we receive from our Chinese listeners. We are proud of what we are doing. The good cause is worth all of the effort.

Victor Gu is a correspondent for Chinascope.