Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, RTHK, will soon air a 20-episode news show on China’s decision to pass a law that allows Communist Party agents to arrest those who threaten Beijing, the network revealed on Thursday, after a “government-appointed board of advisers” urged the network to “embrace” the legislation.
China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the communist-controlled lawmaking body in Beijing, passed a law allowing China to protect its “national security” in Hong Kong. Anyone accused of seeking independence or secession, or deemed a threat to the Communist Party in any way, will now face criminal consequences at the hands of the Party. The law effectively ends autonomy in Hong Kong, which China agreed to keep in place when it returned to Beijing’s sovereignty in 1997.
Many prominent members of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement have condemned the law, arguing that it breaches the “One Country, Two Systems” policy by allowing Chinese agents to enforce Chinese laws rather than autonomous Hong Kong laws on freedom of expression and assembly. Many fear they could be arrested and disappeared into China’s repressive legal system.
The law will go into effect after it is written. The NPC typically passes laws without having a text of the law, working on a “draft” that is later revised by Party officials. Supporters claim that Hong Kong’s local government, by not passing laws against public criticisms of China, had abandoned its responsibility to safeguard the national security of China, allowing for an opening to pass this law.
The plan to air a special on the national security law arose from the first meeting of a new “working group” to steer content at RTHK, the network itself detailed in a report.
“We are [a] public broadcaster. It says clearly in our mission and purpose that our job is to produce programmes to let the citizens understand ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the actual implementation,” Eugene Chan, one of the members of RTHK’s board of advisers, reportedly said at the meeting. Chan insisted that the network must strive to ensure that citizens have a “correct understanding” of the “national security” law, as China would prefer it.”
In response to concerns that RTHK is being made to promote the law, Chan said, “I won’t use the word ‘promote’, I will use the word ‘embrace.’”
RTHK separately announced a “20-episode” series of five-minute videos on the national security law on Thursday, which the network plans to air by the end of June. Programming officials at RTHK claimed the series was planned before a working group to steer RTHK programming was formed this month and not a product of that decision.
Thursday was a tumultuous day for RTHK. Its acting deputy director of broadcasting, Kirindi Chan, also resigned after spending less than a year at the post. Chan had dedicated decades to working at the network, largely at what RTHK described as “current affairs TV shows.” Despite the timing, RTHK officials insisted that Chan was resigning for “health reasons,” without elaborating.
“What she [does] is mainly for the administration work so down to the daily operation of the programme, I don’t think it’s [her] main jobs. What [she] does is make the decision but not the programme itself,” Amen Ng, director of corporate communications and standards, told reporters. She insisted there were no “political reasons” for the move.
The working group that met Thursday was a response to RTHK programming that did not meet the standards of the Communist Party agenda, in particular an RTHK reporter asking a World Health Organization (W.H.O.) official about the agency’s exclusion of Taiwan and a comedy sketch that mocked Hong Kong police as flagrant abusers of pro-democracy protesters. In the former case, reporter Yvonne Tong asked W.H.O. advisor Bruce Aylward if the agency would consider allowing the country of Taiwan to be a member given its high rate of success combatting the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, particularly when compared to China. Aylward flagrantly pretended not to hear the question.
The latter, more local case occurred in February. Headliner, a sketch comedy show airing on RTHK for over 30 years, produced a sketch in which a comedian played a Hong Kong police officer hoarding medical protective gear and joking about police brutality. The officer was depicted as living in a dumpster, suggesting police officers are garbage.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang, appointed last year with a government mandate to repress the pro-democracy protests, published a threatening open letter to RTHK, asserting that the comedy sketch would embolden “criminals” to act against the police. RTHK officials issued a statement amid the outrage stating that they did not believe any reasonable person would interpret a Headliner sketch as an attempt at an accurate representation of the police force.
RTHK was forced to cancel Headliner anyway; the show will end after its 31st season.