Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK takes current affairs documentary off air, while popular talk show has also been suspended, sources say

Chris Lau
·5-min read

An evening talk show focused on history, literature, science and philosophy has been suspended by Hong Kong’s trouble-plagued RTHK, multiple sources have told the Post, while the public broadcaster also confirmed it axed another current affairs documentary featuring a university student union accused of breaking the national security law.

Meanwhile, the Communications Authority, the city’s broadcasting watchdog, found RTHK was in breach of its code of practice in a show aired in March last year, by implying that Taiwan was a country.

Rise and fall of RTHK boss who tried and failed to serve two masters

It noted the episode of Taiwan Story 3 used terms such as “breaking off diplomatic relations” to describe the cutting of ties between the self-ruled island and Burkina Faso, a West African country, and the Republic of Malawi in southeastern Africa.

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“The use of the terms … suggested that Taiwan was a sovereign state capable of establishing formal diplomatic relations, and was inaccurate,” the authority wrote. It advised the broadcaster to observe the code more closely in the future.

The public broadcaster has repeatedly been in the spotlight since social unrest rocked Hong Kong in 2019, with pro-establishment figures accusing it of siding with protesters against the government and police. The government appointed a career bureaucrat to head the station.

Monday’s suspensions added to a list of shows the new director of broadcasting, Patrick Li Pak-chuen, a former deputy secretary for home affairs, has pulled the plug or put a brake on since he took charge on March 1.

At least three hosts of the RTHK Talk Show 2021 confirmed they were notified by the broadcaster that the recording of future episodes would be suspended “until the management reviews and approves” production.

Government report slams RTHK, accuses it of lack of editorial accountability

Two of them, who worked on the production team, said the filming of new sessions had already begun.

The programme, which aired every weekday at 11pm on Channel 31, featured academics and experts from a wide range of fields who would shed light on topics from artificial intelligence to the rule of law. Since its debut in 2017, the show managed to draw a niche crowd which paved the way for its fifth season, originally slated for May.

An RTHK spokesman made no mention of the suspension in a statement on Monday, but revealed that an episode of Hong Kong Connection, originally due to be aired on Monday night, had been pulled. Since Li took over as the station’s editor-in-chief, RTHK had taken three shows off the shelves, he said.

The new director of broadcasting, Patrick Li, at RTHK’s head office in Kowloon Tong. Photo: Felix Wong
The new director of broadcasting, Patrick Li, at RTHK’s head office in Kowloon Tong. Photo: Felix Wong

Part of this week’s episode of Hong Kong Connection featured Syzygia, a Chinese University student union which has been disbanded after being accused by the varsity of breaching the security law.

“The main reason for these programmes to be pulled is the contentious topics they have selected … They could not fulfil the requirements to be fair, impartial and accurate, failing the criteria as listed in the Charter of Radio Television Hong Kong and RTHK’s internal Producers’ Guidelines,” the spokesman said. He added that some shows had failed to depict the national security law accurately.

RTHK under siege: should it be a public broadcaster or government mouthpiece?

Li axed several television-show episodes he deemed unbalanced, and said he would ask employees to submit ideas and plans for shows ahead of production to make sure the station’s governing charter was being strictly observed.

But a source said Li had looked at the proposal on the varsity episode. “Yet suddenly this morning, it was a no-go,” he said.

A board of advisers previously appointed by the government to review RTHK’s operations said in a statement they understood the broadcaster’s moves but urged it to explain that to the public.

They said the broadcaster had undertaken to produce new programmes “to strengthen engendering national identity and knowledge about Chinese culture among the public”.

The public broadcaster has been repeatedly thrust into the spotlight since social unrest rocked Hong Kong in 2019, with pro-establishment figures accusing it of siding with protesters against the government and police.

The government previously ordered a probe on its operations. In a subsequent damning report earlier this month, a government-appointed panel slammed the broadcaster for its poor management, and Li was appointed on the same day.

Since Li took over, RTHK has pulled an episode of Hong Kong Stories in which hip hop group LMF was expected to take part. A talk show centred on Hong Kong’s controversial electoral reform was also axed.

Critics have also accused the broadcaster of suspending, among other shows, various episodes of Outstanding Teachers 2021, produced by freelance journalist Bao Choy Yuk-ling, in which she followed award-winning educators. Choy is currently on trial for tapping into the official vehicle registry for her investigative report on an attack at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21 two years ago.

Journalist Bao Choy, who was charged with violating a provision in the Road Traffic Ordinance, for an investigative report on Yuen Long attack. Photo: Winson Wong
Journalist Bao Choy, who was charged with violating a provision in the Road Traffic Ordinance, for an investigative report on Yuen Long attack. Photo: Winson Wong

On that day, police were accused of arriving late to the station, when a group of white-clad mobs attacked train passengers and protesters on its premises.

The RTHK Programme Staff Union said it was never given a reason for the pulling of certain shows and stressed the importance of editorial independence.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yang, who was interviewed for the episode of Hong Kong Connection on Monday night, said she felt a bit “helpless”, but added she respected RTHK’s decision as the broadcaster might have decided the show was not sufficiently balanced.

“If the editor-in-chief can have better communications with the staff in the future, I believe things will improve,” she said.


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