HK govt replaces broadcast chief, signals overhaul of 'local BBC'

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's government review of public broadcaster RTHK has found deficiencies in editorial management and a lack of transparency in handling complaints, signalling a major overhaul of the revered institution as concerns grow over media freedom in the city.

The only independent, publicly funded media outlet on Chinese soil, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) was founded in 1928 and is sometimes compared with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Its charter guarantees it editorial independence.

The "local BBC" angered Hong Kong's government, the police and Beijing with its coverage of the 2019 anti-government protests that shook the Asian financial hub, including several investigations that sparked widespread criticism of the authorities.

"There are deficiencies in (the) editorial management mechanism," the Commerce Bureau said in a 154-page report of its review released yesterday.

There were "no well-defined and properly documented editorial processes and decisions", and no "clear allocation of roles and responsibilities among editorial staff", it added. "Weak editorial accountability is observed."

The government-led review focusing on aspects of RTHK's governance and management was announced last year, spanning the issues of administration, financial control and manpower.

However, the union of the broadcaster's staff said the review "challenges the bottom line of logic".

In a statement, it added: "Editorial autonomy has vanished into nothing."

Earlier yesterday, Hong Kong appointed Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Li as director of broadcasting, from March 1.

Mr Li, a career bureaucrat who worked in the government's constitutional and mainland affairs and security bureaus but has no experience in media, will replace veteran journalist Leung Ka-wing, six months before his contract expires.

Mr Leung, whose management the review has described as too "passive", was not thanked for his service in the government notice of the new appointment, contrary to practice.

Beijing has said patriots must run every public institution in Hong Kong.

The broadcaster "serves residents of the city instead of bureaucrats", its staff union said.

"It's a whole body operation," said Mr Bruce Lui, a former host of RTHK's China On The Dot radio programme. "It's foreseeable that sensitive reporting that, for example, might involve criticising China's Communist Party will be hard to do," added Mr Lui, who is now a journalism lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2021, with the headline 'HK govt replaces broadcast chief, signals overhaul of 'local BBC''. Subscribe