Fear Grips Hong Kong’s Public Broadcaster 

An important Hong Kong public news broadcaster is at risk of becoming a government mouthpiece as Beijing tightens its grip, according to an insider who described rising editorial pressure and orders to pull out of journalism contests.Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is feeling the changes under a newly appointed manager and the city’s new national security law, elevating concerns that the broadcaster will end up more closely aligned with the Communist Party-controlled Hong Kong government.Last month, the regional Hong Kong government appointed Patrick Li Pak-Chuen, a career bureaucrat with no media experience, as RTHK’s new director of broadcasting. Since then, local media have reported how several shows considered biased by the new RTHK management were suspended by Li, also editor-in-chief.VOA interviewed a senior RTHK employee familiar with internal discussions at the broadcaster, who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation and speak candidly. Overall, the source said, RTHK journalists are feeling uncertain about the new management direction and are under pressure to conform.In response to VOA’s request for comment from the director of broadcasting, RTHK’s head of corporate communications and standards said the broadcaster is “editorially independent as stipulated in the charter of RTHK” that it “will continue to abide by.”’Repressive’ atmosphereBut the RTHK source described the atmosphere as “tense” and “repressive” with a “top-down approach.” Producers must now have current affairs shows preapproved, and directors are asking for more pro-government voices in segments. Even when “impartiality” is demonstrated, the employee said, show ideas are rejected with little explanation.“They won’t tell you the line until they suddenly say you crossed the line, but they didn’t give the details of how the line is crossed — like certain people you can’t interview, that’s all in the dark,” the source said. “Secretive.”VOA has found it increasingly difficult to contact sources within the broadcaster, with many declining interviews for fear of reprisal.The fear is that RTHK will end up closer to China’s state-controlled media. “It’s looming over us,” the source said. “There have been some opportunist people who have already offered to produce something that isn’t too far away from propaganda.”RTHK is Hong Kong’s sole public broadcaster. It launched its first radio program in 1928 under the British Hong Kong Government but later became an independent department. By the 1990s, RTHK was producing web, television and radio content and is bound by its Ng Chi-sam, right, and Tsang Chi-ho, hosts of RTHK’s satirical comedy show “Headliner,” perform the show, in Hong Kong, China, June 5, 2020.Censorship movesPolitics intruded on RTHK beginning in 2019 as anti-Beijing protests raged. Since then, several shows have been suspended because of perceived government criticism. They include a satirical show, “Headliner,” accused of bias against the Hong Kong police.An interview with Nathan Law, a prominent, now-exiled activist, was removed from the RTHK website after reports that Law was wanted for violating national security.Review teams have been set up within the broadcaster to vet future content, and China’s national anthem is now played daily on RTHK radio channels, an effort seen as promoting “patriotism” among Hong Kongers. The broadcaster also followed China’s decision to drop BBC World Service radio broadcasts after criticism by the Chinese government.Bao Choy Yuk-Ling, a freelance producer with RTHK, leaves West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts after being found guilty of making false statements to obtain data for a documentary, in Hong Kong, China April 22, 2021.And on Thursday, a Hong Kong court found Bao Choy, a freelance producer of the now-award-winning Yuen Long documentary, guilty of illegally obtaining data for the episode. Bao was fined HKD $6,000 (U.S. $773). The documentary highlighted the delayed response by Hong Kong police to the mob attack, in which dozens were injured.RTHK Arrest in Hong Kong Is Further Blow to Press FreedomArrests, chilled climate since National Security Law came into effect may leave Hong Kong media deciding between self-censorship or revealing the truthThe government has recently called for Hong Kong “patriots” as it pushes to quell unrest in the city. In February, all civil servants, including hundreds of RTHK employees, were asked to sign an allegiance to the government. The fear is that this will allow government critics to be targeted under the new national security law.Nicholas Cull, a professor of public diplomacy at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, told VOA that the “complete integration of media is the long-term goal of Beijing.”It’s part of a worsening environment globally for media, he said, as broadcasters in Poland, Slovenia and Hungary have been targeted. “In many places, there is an assumption of state control over the public broadcaster,” Cull said.’Especially dangerous’ for journalistsThe national security law was described by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders as “especially dangerous” for journalists. It ranked Hong Kong 80th out of 180 countries, where 1 is the most free, in its press freedom index released Tuesday.The RTHK source who spoke with VOA described a deteriorating situation, with low communication, few meetings, and less transparency and input from senior staff, as “political correctness” becomes the sole consideration for the new director.“Propaganda is propaganda and reporting is reporting,” the source said. “But then I’d say the boundaries would be blurrier and blurrier, and to the end of that road it could end up being CCTV [China Central Television Network].”

your ad here

leave a reply