Authorities say new rules meant to curb criminality but activists, rights group see it as another form of control.
A Hong Kong government review of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) has found editorial management “deficiencies” and a lack of transparency in handling complaints, signalling an extensive overhaul of the public service broadcaster was in the works amid concern over media restrictions in the Chinese-controlled territory.
The outcome of the review was announced on Friday, as the government replaced the head of RTHK months before his scheduled departure.
RTHK, founded in 1928 and sometimes compared with the BBC, is the only independent, publicly funded media outlet in China. Its charter guarantees its editorial independence. .
It angered the Hong Kong government, the police force, and Beijing with its coverage of the anti-government protests that shook the city in 2019, including several investigations that led to widespread criticism of the authorities.
Last year, the Commerce Bureau began an unprecedented, government-led review of RTHK’s governance and management – spanning its administration, financial control and manpower – to ensure it complied with its charter.
Key direction of Govt's review over RTHK the public broadcaster: improve editorial role by editor-in-chief (will soon be a bureaucrat), greater oversight by supervisory committee, and to improve complaint system. It all points to one thing: CONTROL.
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) February 19, 2021
“There are deficiencies in (the) editorial management mechanism,” said the 154-page review released on Friday.
There were “no well-defined and properly documented editorial processes and decisions,” and no “clear allocation of roles and responsibilities among editorial staff,” it said. “Weak editorial accountability is observed.”
Earlier on Friday, the government appointed Patrick Li, the former deputy secretary for Home Affairs, as director of broadcasting, effective from March 1. He replaces Leung Ka-wing, who is leaving before his contract ends in August.
In a report, RTHK quoted the government as saying that it had conducted an open recruitment to replace Leung, but could not find a suitable candidate for the post.
The Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said Li would ensure that RTHK fully abides by its charter.
Pro-Beijing supporters regularly file complaints against RTHK and stage protests outside its headquarters, accusing it of anti-government bias.
Last week, RTHK said it would suspending airing of BBC radio news content after China barred the BBC World News service from mainland networks, in a further indication of Beijing’s tightening grip on the media in Hong Kong.
When Beijing expelled about a dozen journalists working for US news outlets last year, it also barred them from relocating to the semi-autonomous territory.
Critics say the national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 is a blunt tool to stifle dissent and curb media freedom and other liberties. The legislation calls for tougher regulation of the media.
The government maintains the territory’s rights and freedoms remain intact.
Hong Kong fell to the 80th place in the Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom index in 2020, from 18th in 2002. China ranks 177th.
The arrest of perceived government critics also continues in the city.
On Thursday, police arrested a 19-year-old man in connection with a protest at a Chinese University congregation ceremony in November.
The government said the man, who is said to be a student at the university, was detained for alleged unlawful assembly and inciting secession.