Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) debuted a new program hosted by the city’s pro-China chief executive, Carrie Lam, in the past month shortly after the government took over the station.
Lam presented the first episode of a new RTHK program titled Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors, on April 28. The show’s title refers to a new imposed electoral system promoted by the Chinese Communist Party that largely curbs voter freedoms. The reforms include a reduction in the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature, or legislative council, and an increase in the number of pro-Beijing members China’s ruling Communist Party may appoint to the ruling body.
Two RTHK staff members spoke to the U.S. government-funded Voice of America (VOA) anonymously May 7 and described Lam’s new RTHK TV show as “one-sided” and “like propaganda.”
RTHK’s charter states that it is “editorial independent” and that it will “be impartial in the views it reflects, and even-handed with all those who seek to express their views” via its platform. RTHK further vows in its charter to “be immune from commercial, political and/or other influences.”
“What would breach the [RTHK] charter [in Carrie Lam’s RTHK show] is the obvious, a biased view of the reformed Legislative Council election plan … because apart from making herself the only host of the program, what is more problematic is that she only invited people who unanimously praised the whole review as something positive,” a senior RTHK staff member told VOA anonymously May 7.
“She never acknowledged anything against, for example, criticisms with the decrease in democratic elements of the proposal, and also how what should have been a broad election of people of equal opportunity is less and less possible under the new scheme,” the staffer said.
An RTHK spokesperson was cited in Hong Kong media reports recently as saying that Lam’s RTHK show is in line with the broadcaster’s charter, which mandates that RTHK should “engender a sense of citizenship and national identity through programmes[sic] that contribute to the understanding of our community and nation.”
RTHK’s stated mission includes an aim to “provide a platform for the Government and the community to discuss public policies and express views thereon without fear or favour[sic],” according to its charter.
The debut of Lam’s new RTHK program in April came two months after pro-China government officials in Hong Kong appointed a new director, Patrick Li, to oversee the broadcaster’s operations in February.
“Li, a career administrative officer with no prior media experience, has since axed at least 10 shows after raising concerns over what he deemed partiality,” VOA noted on May 7.
Hong Kong’s pro-China central government last May forced RTHK to cancel a comedy show titled Headliner that had aired since 1989 after the program featured a segment jokingly critical of the city’s police department in February 2020.
The Hong Kong government’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) issued a list of demands to RTHK on May 19, 2020, including “a full review of its editorial system, an apology, and disciplinary action against any staff found to have committed mistakes or ‘negligence,’” in response to the police parody skit aired by Headliner, which the CEDB said was guilty of “denigrating and insulting the police.”
Headliner’s police parody skit aired in the context of a then-ongoing police crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement. The movement saw nearly 2 million Hongkongers take to the city’s streets at its height in the summer of 2019 to demand that China’s ruling Communist Party halt its increasing infiltration of Hong Kong’s traditionally semi-autonomous government.