How authorities cracked down on Hong Kong’s only public broadcaster

Opposition crackdowns continue in Hong Kong, and protesters and politicians against democratization have been detained and imprisoned, and there are now concerns about the independence of its flagship public broadcaster and overall media freedom.

Founded in 1928, when Hong Kong was still under British rule, the acclaimed Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is guaranteed editorial independence in its charter and is sometimes referred to as the Hong Kong version of the BBC.

But things changed in a very short period of time.

The news program was barely pulled, senior staff soon resigned, and the famous journalist for burning Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was fired.

Mr. Lam himself was given four broadcast hours a day to facilitate changes in elections imposed by China to reduce the number of directly elected members.

The head of the station, a journalism veteran, was “released” six months before the deal and replaced Patrick Li, a career bureaucrat with no media experience.

Proponents of RTHK and its independent public services agenda are outraged.

“The world has turned over,” a RTHK journalist who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation told the BBC, adding that the newsroom was “previously open and free.”

She says there is no transparency about editorial decisions. In short, frontline staff have little understanding of why certain programs are off schedule or stop production of other programs.

“When making an editorial decision, it requires a lot of discussion. It shouldn’t just be a command from above,” she said. “Now everything is determined by [Mr Li]Is his decision absolutely correct and can’t be challenged? “

RTHK staff wearing Nabela Qoser mask

RTHK staff protested the dismissal of journalist Nabella Coser, known for Carrie Lam’s grill.

However, Pro-Beijing lawmakers and supporters welcomed the latest changes, saying that RTHK news coverage was biased and that editorial freedom should not be absolute.

According to observers, the crux of the matter is that RTHK is in a difficult position as a public broadcaster, even though it is a government sector. The government has the authority to control financing and appoint senior management.

Dr. Chang Cho-young, a politician at City University of Hong Kong, said the charter guaranteeing RTHK’s editorial independence was “flimsy” protection, officials said.

It seems to be over.

Many controversies

In 2001, four years after Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, then leader Tung Chee-hwa accused the popular political satirical television show “Headliner,” which began airing in 1989, as “vulgar.”

At that time, this kind of criticism was not enough to air it.

Shooting the popular satirical show Headliner

The headliner was RTHK’s iconic show

Recently, things have changed, especially since Hong Kong’s massive anti-democratization movement in 2019.

Hong Kong’s Pro-Beijing block was spurred, and the protests said it “caused hatred of the state, city government and police,” but RTHK has a new scrutiny that has had a direct impact on shows and journalists. It is done.

Among them is Bao Choi, a freelance producer of RTHK’s acclaimed documentary series “Hong Kong Connection.”

She was recently convicted and fined unprecedented. Illegal use of car registration search as part of her job in the programI was investigating police involvement Mob attack On July 21, 2019, dozens of opposition protesters and passers-by were injured at the station.

Choi helped identify the people involved in the mob attack. Her contract has not been renewed.

Another controversy focused on television host Yvonne Tong, who resigned in April.

She was on fire for Challenge WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward over Taiwan’s Body Membership The government said the show violated the “One China” principle. China considers the autonomous island to be part of its territory.

And the headliner was suspended indefinitely after the February 2020 episode. There, one of the hosts in police uniform jumped out of the trash can and ridiculed police officers for having more protective equipment than the other civil servants handling the pandemic. More than 3,000 complaints were received, urging the station to apologize to the police.

In addition, in February, following the BBC ban by mainland China, RTHK announced: BBC World Service’s radio broadcast, which was previously broadcast daily, was suspended...

We have also removed the weekly Cantonese program from the BBC’s China service from the schedule.

New system

RTHK confirms that during Lee’s tenure, the broadcast of three different show episodes was stopped.

However, staff say several other program episodes could not be aired, including one episode of the “Hong Kong Connection” on Electoral College changes featuring interviews with Pro-Beijing and Democratic figures. ..

Immediately after taking command at RTHK on March 1, the agency introduced a “new editorial management mechanism.” In this mechanism, an editorial board led by Lee has final say on all issues related to “controversial” news programs.

Also, unlike his predecessor, Lee does not accept invitations to meetings with the general staff of the RTHK Program Staff Union.

In a statement to the BBC, RTHK felt that management was “inappropriate to discuss editorial issues” at such meetings, and editorial decisions were “through various means according to the chain of command.” He said it would be communicated to employees.

Lee’s reforms also reiterated that they would ensure that the program was “fair, impartial and accurate.”

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Eunice Yung, who had previously criticized RTHK for prejudice, said reforms would ensure “fairness.”

“Now there is a new director of broadcasting. He has a stronger view or way to ensure fairness under the Charter. After all, he is the editor-in-chief. He has the ultimate deciding power. Have and this should be respected, “she said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the all-new RTHK,” she added, reiterating that “it’s a government broadcaster and under the structure of the government.”

RTHK Building

Public Broadcasting has stopped broadcasting some programs under Mr. Lee’s leadership

However, media commentator Allen Oh said, “This facility does not understand the meaning of public broadcasting.”

“Many of them think RTHK shouldn’t bite to feed it … but public broadcasting serves the public, not the government.”

Analysts say RTHK’s change is another sign that Hong Kong’s freedom is shrinking rapidly as China continues to push its authority over city-states.

“ 2019 is a turning point, [the crackdown] It’s not just about RTHK, “says Dr. Cheung.

“Targeting the whole of Hong Kong”

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