Media analysts troubled by changes at Hong Kong public broadcaster | Voice of America
MAE SOT, THAILAND – A series of changes to Hong Kong’s only public broadcaster has worried media analysts who see Radio Television Hong Kong’s response to the pressure as a test for the city’s independent journalism.
Funded by annual government funding, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is under closer scrutiny for its editorial independence following content and staffing decisions. Widespread anti-government protests in 2019, the new national security law and a change of leadership appear to have accelerated these changes.
Media analysts say the overall journalism climate in Hong Kong has cooled since Beijing introduced the National Security Law last June.
“We are talking about the ‘red lines’ in Hong Kong, but the paint is still fresh on the red lines,” said Eric Wishart, co-organizer of the press freedom committee of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC). Kong.
Despite a charter affirming its independence, at RTHK these red lines seem to be in place.
Under new director Patrick Li, at least 10 shows have been canceled due to bias, thousands of videos over 12 months old have been removed from social media, and Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam has received daily television segments to host a program. which promotes the controversial electoral reforms proposed by Beijing.
RTHK’s independence questioned on show hosted by Hong Kong leader
New political series from Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam marks yet another shift in production for public broadcaster RTHK, reporters and analysts say
The broadcaster has been criticized by the Hong Kong Journalists Association for its decisions, including not to renew the contract of one of its reporters, Nabela Qoser.
The broadcaster received complaints about Qoser’s scathing interview with Lam at the height of anti-government protests.
An earlier investigation into Qoser’s conduct cleared the reporter. But the the investigation has been reopened.
“The Journalists Association is concerned that once RTHK, as a public broadcaster, sets a bad example, penalizes journalists who raise pointed questions, prevents them from renewing their contracts or even withholds their pay,” [it] will end up having a deterrent effect and seriously affect press freedom, ”the association said in a statement. statement posted on Facebook.
A second RTHK reporter, Bao Choy, was convicted of two counts of illegally obtaining public data. The former producer used the research for a award-winning documentary “Hong Kong: Connection”.
The show investigated the Hong Kong police response to attacks by gang members on pro-democracy protesters in Yuen Long District in 2019. In her first court appearance, the producer told VOA the authorities “are using the law to suppress freedom of the press.”
Hong Kong arrest of RTHK is another blow to press freedom
Arrests and icy climate since National Security Act took effect may leave Hong Kong media to decide between self-censorship or revealing the truth
In April, a Hong Kong court ruled that Choy had not said his search for public information was for journalistic purposes. The online form does not show any option to specify the purpose of a search. She was fined US $ 770. Choy’s RTHK contract expired in January and was not renewed.
RTHK’s new chief Li did not respond to VOA’s request for comment on a series of questions regarding the changes at the broadcaster.
A spokesperson for the broadcaster was quoted in reports saying that Lam’s show is in line with the charter’s mandate to promote a sense of citizenship and national identity. And RTHK says its removal of videos from social media is in line with how content is handled on the main website.
Wishart, of the Hong Kong FCC, said Choy’s method would be seen as “routine reporting around the world,” but the rules of the media game are changing.
“(Hong Kong) is a changing landscape, and it’s a big challenge for everyone. For Bao Choy, two years ago wouldn’t have been a problem, now it was a problem. For the guy. of programs that are canceled at RTHK a year ago, that wouldn’t have been a problem, ”Wishart said.
His words characterize the sentiment of the media in Hong Kong: that the red lines for journalists change quickly.
Award-winning RTHK producer Yvonne Tong is another case in point. Local media reported that she resigned in April after being scrutinized online by pro-Beijing websites and Chinese state media.
Hong Kong government berates public broadcaster for WHO interview on Taiwan
Hong Kong government says RTHK violated ‘one China principle’ after reporter asked whether Taiwan should be allowed to join WHO
The pressure came after Tong questioned World Health Organization (WHO) adviser Bruce Aylward in March last year about the coronavirus pandemic. When Tong spoke of Taiwan’s success in containing the virus, Aylward said he couldn’t hear the question, and then the call was disconnected.
Taiwan is self-managed but claimed by China.
Tong was criticized by pro-Beijing politicians during the interview. A government press release said it “violates the one-China principle,” in which Beijing insists Taiwan should be considered part of China.
Keith Richburg, director of the Center for Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Hong Kong and chairman of the FCC, told VOA the RTHK cases were “troubling.”
“Any of those things would raise eyebrows, but you take all of these things together, and the idea of them giving the CEO a talk show, which is basically a public service announcement, and that’s a sort of ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ “said Richburg.
“There is clearly a pattern here that would indicate that they want to make RTHK a less independent news agency and something that further promotes and supports official government policies,” Richburg said.
With the YouTube archives, a senior RTHK employee, who asked not to be identified to avoid retaliation, told VOA that internally, directors had cited RTHK’s content policy and limited space on broadcaster servers.
“If they know YouTube, they don’t have this restriction,” the employee said.
“This content was made possible with public funds, so I think it belongs to the public, so I don’t see how anyone has the power to take it out of their will,” the senior official said.
Restrictions and cancellations of shows are prompting some journalists to rethink their future at RTHK.
A freelance writer told VOA he was planning to leave, saying investigative reporting was no longer possible due to questions about the broadcaster’s editorial independence. The reporter asked not to be identified to protect them and their team from any reprisals.
An executive producer who ran “Hong Kong: Connection” resigned this month. RTHK reported that Paul Lee had quit after being informed that the program would no longer cover current affairs.
“Hong Kong: Connection” won the Chinese Language Documentary Award at the 2021 Human Rights Prize.
Journalism professor Richburg said anything that criticizes the government, the national security law or electoral reforms appears to be hot spots, adding that Hong Kong news outlets like Apple Daily “are on the front lines.”
Apple Daily media mogul and founder Jimmy Lai is currently in jail on a host of charges, including under the National Security Act. Lai has been denied bail on several occasions, apparently due to interviews with international media, which prosecutors consider a form of “foreign collusion” prohibited by national security law.
“I don’t see Hong Kong going completely closed,” Richburg said. “But I see it’s getting harder for journalists to operate here, because people are reluctant to talk to them.”