Its independence waning, RTHK plans new programs to boost national identity

2021.05.22
Its independence waning RTHK plans new programs to boost national identity

Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, once known for its independent news coverage, is introducing a torrent of government-affiliated programs under an official directive to rein in the media.

In recent years Radio Television Hong Kong has seen a political satire program axed and reporters reprimanded for reports critical of the government. Now a series of new government-oriented programmes has been scheduled, centered around key national development plans and government policies.

They included a program that discusses the National 14th Five-Year Plan – Beijing’s development blueprint that symbolized China’s planned economy. Another program will cover the recently introduced overhaul of the city’s electoral system, which favors pro-Beijing candidates and bars dissenting politicians from running for office.

Another new show will focus on the culture of cities in the Greater Bay Area, the economic zone in Guangdong province envisioned by officials to help integrate the semi-autonomous region into the mainland.

The programming changes are designed to ensure that RTHK helps to educate the public about the “one country, two systems” policy, and strengthens people’s understanding of the nation and Chinese citizenship, according to a Commerce and Economic Development Bureau document submitted to the Legislative Council.

Modelled on the United Kingdom’s BBC, RTHK was designed to maintain editorial independence from the government. But pro-Beijing politicians have accused it of favoring pro-democracy activists in its shows.

The government has launched a review into RTHK’s “operation and governance” and shaken up management by embedding senior civil servants in the top ranks.

In previous curbs on RTHK’s independence, a decades-old political satire show, “Headliner”, ran its last show last year while Bao Choy, a freelance producer for RTHK, was recently fined over an award-winning report critical of the police handling of anti-government protests in 2019.

There is widespread concern that freedom of expression is waning in Hong Kong under the sweeping set of national security laws, introduced last June, specifically covering key areas such as the media and education.

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