HONG KONG (Reuters) – When a crew of producers at Radio Tv Hong Kong (RTHK) heard on Could 19 that the publicly funded broadcaster deliberate to axe one in all its hottest weekly exhibits, they rushed to the constructing subsequent door to confront the station’s head.
FILE PHOTO: Journalists carrying yellow vests are seen throughout an anti-government protest to mock Chief Government Carrie Lam at Mong Kok, in Hong Kong, China, Could 13, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Picture
A bunch of about 20 producers and different workers from RTHK’s TV and radio operations barged right into a convention room the place Leung Ka-wing, director of broadcasting, was assembly with prime executives.
Some employees demanded to know why the satirical and present affairs tv present “Headliner” – which had drawn official complaints after poking enjoyable on the Hong Kong police in an episode in February – was being cancelled, and whether or not the transfer was prompted by strain from authorities.
The impromptu assembly lasted about 90 minutes, throughout which a number of staffers cried and raised their voices, in response to three folks current. Leung mentioned he took the choice to cancel the present with the intention to “shield RTHK” and its employees, in response to the three folks.
As conversations continued contained in the convention room, RTHK introduced it was suspending manufacturing of the Chinese language-language present, which had been working since 1989, on the finish of the present season. RTHK apologized to anybody offended by the station’s output however didn’t give a motive for the suspension.
Leung, 67, who made his title in broadcasting in the course of the Tiananmen Sq. crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989, declined to reply Reuters’ questions in regards to the assembly. He denied making the remark about defending RTHK, in response to RTHK spokeswoman Amen Ng. Different executives within the assembly that Reuters might determine didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Hong Kong’s authorities didn’t touch upon whether or not it had pressured Leung to cancel the present.
RTHK, based in 1928 and generally in comparison with the British Broadcasting Company, is the one impartial, publicly funded media outlet on Chinese language soil. It’s assured editorial independence by its constitution.
The cancellation of “Headliner” has prompted concern amongst some journalists that mounting strain from the Hong Kong authorities and Beijing will destroy that independence.
Hong Kong reached boiling level final summer time as tens of millions of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets and a few of them clashed violently with police, posing one of many greatest challenges to China’s chief Xi Jinping since he got here to energy in 2012.
In response to the protests, China mentioned final month it might introduce nationwide safety laws in Hong Kong to ban secession, subversion and exterior interference. Greater than a dozen folks working at RTHK and different media organizations instructed Reuters they concern that laws may very well be used to silence or shut down impartial media within the territory.
The scenario is like being below the blade of a guillotine, mentioned Jimmy Lai, the writer of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Each day newspaper, which like RTHK, has for years drawn the ire of Hong Kong’s authorities and Beijing: “There’s no half-way. It’s falling.”
Lai, 72, has been repeatedly denounced by state-run Beijing media and pro-China media in Hong Kong, portray him because the native face of what they describe as a U.S. interference marketing campaign. He has been arrested twice this yr on prices of unlawful meeting associated to protests final yr.
Lai and another members of the media concern the brand new laws – which has not but been set out intimately – will make Hong Kong extra like mainland China, the place the ruling Communist Get together runs or controls the overwhelming majority of media and routinely censors dissenting views. The nation imprisoned no less than 48 journalists final yr, greater than every other nation, in response to the Committee to Defend Journalists.
Hong Kong’s chief Carrie Lam has denied the brand new laws would curtail media freedom, saying final month that “freedom of expression, freedom of protest, freedom of journalism, will keep.” Hong Kong is assured freedom of speech and the press below Article 27 of the Primary Regulation, the mini-constitution agreed by China when it took again management of former British colony in 1997.
A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of International Affairs instructed Reuters the proposed laws “solely targets actions associated to subversion, separatism, terrorism and international interference into Hong Kong affairs,” and that it’s going to “not have an effect on freedom of speech, media freedoms, or every other rights and freedoms.”
China’s Liaison Workplace in Hong Kong, Beijing’s official base within the metropolis, didn’t reply to requests for touch upon whether or not China sought to regulate or suppress RTHK or if the brand new nationwide safety laws would curtail media freedom in Hong Kong.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Scrutiny of RTHK has elevated dramatically since late February, when a two-minute phase on “Headliner” entitled ‘Police Farce Report’ confirmed an actor dressed as a Hong Kong police officer standing inside a big garbage container along with his arms coated in plastic.
The skit exhibits police in numerous conditions carrying biohazard fits and masks, satirizing how effectively outfitted law enforcement officials are in comparison with medical staff. The actor, Kwong Ngai-yee, instructed Reuters the thought was based mostly on the “Sesame Avenue” puppet Oscar the Grouch and that he hoped to “ease public anger by way of humour.”
Hong Kong police weren’t amused. The pressure’s commissioner Chris Tang complained to Leung in writing in early March, saying the present “smeared the police and their work in the course of the coronavirus interval.” RTHK had “reversed proper and flawed, and we merely can’t settle for it,” Tang wrote within the letter, which was made public by RTHK.
On the morning of Could 19, Hong Kong’s Communications Authority, which regulates the town’s broadcast and telecoms sectors, printed a report criticizing the broadcaster, saying the phase “smeared the police by suggesting that the police have been trash, nugatory and revulsive.”
Because the RTHK workers met with Leung that night, Hong Kong’s Commerce and Financial Growth Bureau, which oversees RTHK, launched a press release on its web site demanding that the broadcaster study its manufacturing and editorial processes and “observe up or take disciplinary actions” on any employees discovered to have dedicated “negligence or errors.”
9 days later, the Commerce Bureau introduced an unprecedented, government-led evaluate of RTHK’s governance and administration – spanning its administration, monetary management and manpower – to make sure it complies with its constitution. The evaluate is predicted to be concluded by the tip of the yr.
A spokesman for the Commerce Bureau instructed Reuters in an e-mail that RTHK has editorial independence, however as a authorities division, RTHK and its employees “are topic to all relevant authorities guidelines and rules.”
“Finally RTHK is a part of the federal government, and in concept it might do something to us,” mentioned Gladys Chiu, the chairperson of RTHK’s programme employees union, which represents about 400 of the station’s 700 employees. The brand new laws and elevated scrutiny of RTHK may very well be used “to coerce the employees into broadcasting or reporting in a method that’s accepted by the federal government,” she mentioned.
RTHK additionally faces pressures at avenue stage. Small teams of pro-Beijing protesters usually collect exterior its headquarters in Kowloon, waving Chinese language flags and indicators accusing the broadcaster of anti-government bias.
“Shut it down,” the crowds chanted repeatedly throughout one protest in January, in response to video information protection, whereas calling RTHK a “cockroach” station, an outline some police have used to explain pro-democracy protesters.
Some RTHK employees have been threatened in social media posts and focused within the pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong for perceived anti-government bias. Some pro-Beijing lawmakers additionally routinely assault RTHK. One outspoken critic, Junius Ho, final month demanded the broadcaster develop into a “authorities mouthpiece.”
“It’s very worrying as a result of we see RTHK being reined in by each means,” mentioned Shirley Yam, vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Affiliation.
China and the US have been engaged in a tit-for-tat spat over the presence of the opposite’s journalists for a number of months.
America slashed the variety of journalists permitted to work at Chinese language state-owned media shops within the nation to 100 from 160, citing a deepening crackdown on impartial reporting inside China. In March, Beijing revoked the media credentials of a few dozen American reporters working in mainland China for the Wall Avenue Journal, Washington Publish and New York Instances, saying the reporters wouldn’t be allowed to relocate and work in Hong Kong.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned in a press release on the State Division’s web site final month that the Chinese language authorities “has threatened to intrude with the work of American journalists in Hong Kong,” with out giving particulars.
A supply with direct data of the matter instructed Reuters that if the row with the US escalates additional, Beijing might intervene within the issuance of labor visas for international journalists in Hong Kong.
The spokesperson for China’s Ministry of International Affairs mentioned: “Visa points are a matter of nationwide sovereignty. The Chinese language authorities manages affairs associated to international media and international journalists in response to legal guidelines and rules.”
Intervening within the issuance of journalists’ visas can be a extremely contentious transfer for Hong Kong, which though a part of China, operates with a excessive diploma of autonomy. In 2018, the visa of the Monetary Instances’ Asia editor, Victor Mallet, was not renewed by Hong Kong after he moderated a speech by a pro-independence activist at an occasion hosted by the International Correspondents’ Membership (FCC) within the metropolis. The transfer alarmed some diplomats and enterprise teams in Hong Kong.
The occasion angered China, and a senior official mentioned on the time that the FCC had damaged the regulation by internet hosting a “separatist.” Hong Kong authorities by no means publicly defined why Mallet’s visa had not been renewed, saying they might not touch upon particular person circumstances.
Hong Kong’s world media freedom rating is in free-fall. Reporters with out Borders (RSF) mentioned Hong Kong fell to 80th place in 2020 in its world press freedom index, down from 18th in 2002. Over the previous yr, reporters overlaying protests within the metropolis have been detained, pepper-sprayed and shot with rubber bullets and tear fuel canisters by police.
“A safety regulation dictated by China would give an enormous blow to press freedom in Hong Kong,” mentioned Cédric Alviani, the top of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “(It will) permit the regime to interact in the kind of intimidation that we see on their facet of the border.”
Reporting by James Pomfret and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Extra reporting by Beijing newsroom; Enhancing by Invoice Rigby
— to www.reuters.com