Scores of RTHK employees face being thrown out of their offices within months, after the government told Hong Kong’s public broadcaster to vacate one of its buildings.
The Education Bureau notified RTHK on Tuesday that it had until September to hand back the Education Television Centre in Kowloon Tong. The station no longer produced the bureau’s educational programmes, it said.
Amen Ng Man-yee, head of corporate communications and standards at RTHK, said the bureau’s decision was “a bit hasty” as the station would need time to move more than 90 staff working in the centre to other offices. A new home also had to be found for equipment.
Management of the government-funded broadcaster held a meeting on the issue on Wednesday.
Asked if the eviction notice came as a shock to bosses, Ng said: “I don’t think ‘shocked’ is the right word. But it is really very short notice.”
Ng added: “We were only told of the decision on [Tuesday]. It was earlier than expected. We will discuss with the Education Bureau whether they can allow us more time. For example, whether we can return the studios in the centre to the bureau first, while staff might move out by early next year.”
The station operates mainly out of three cramped buildings on Broadcast Drive in Kowloon Tong. They are Broadcasting House, Television House and the ETV Centre. It also has smaller offices elsewhere.
“I was given to understand that RTHK will have to find space to rehouse the offices ourselves. The [Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which oversees the broadcaster] is not going to help deal with the Education Bureau,” RTHK Programme Staff Union chairwoman Gladys Chiu Sin-yan said.
While Chiu would not speculate on whether there were political considerations behind the decision, she said: “We all know RTHK is now in the vortex of a political storm and everyone can see that it is running on tight resources.”
RTHK has come under fire in recent months from the government and police over the station’s coverage of the city’s ongoing social unrest. Critics said its reporting was biased and sided with the anti-government camp.
Francis Fong Po-kiu, a member of RTHK’s programme advisory panel, suspected the latest move was an attempt to “dry out resources” at the broadcaster.
“Some senior staff don’t have their own computers or desks, from my knowledge,” Fong said. “There are government departments which have been criticising RTHK’s programmes lately … it feels like some officials are handling issues related to the broadcaster in a politically oriented manner.”
However, legislator Elizabeth Quat, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said RTHK should have expected to vacate the building at some point as it was no longer needed to produce ETV programmes.
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said the return of the centre in September was in the public interest as the building was not needed for its original purpose. The bureau had been “in great need” of more office space, she said. She did not mention whether the bureau would consider postponing the removal deadline.
Asked if it would help RTHK negotiate, a spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said late on Wednesday: “It involves an administrative matter between the Education Bureau and RTHK. We believe the two parties can resolve the matter to meet their respective accommodation needs in a pragmatic manner.”
The ETV service started in 1971 for primary schools and, five years later, for secondary schools. Kindergartens were included in 2003.
In a 2018 value-for-money report, public spending watchdog the Audit Commission noted the need to explore the outsourcing of ETV programme production.
Following a review, the Education Bureau wanted to reposition the ETV service from 2020-21 by putting more resources into e-learning, instead of producing traditional television programmes.
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