The Hong Kong Journalists Association has expressed “extreme regret” at public broadcaster RTHK’s decision to ban its staff from live-streaming a pro-independence activist’s talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club next week.
Chan’s Hong Kong National Party is facing a potential ban by the government and has until September 4 to make its case. His upcoming talk at the foreign press club received widespread media attention after HKFP revealed that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong attempted to block Chan from appearing.
Head of RTHK Leung Ka-wing ordered a ban on broadcasts of the talk during a meeting of top management on Thursday, saying that the station cannot provide a platform for Hong Kong independence, Apple Daily reported, citing unnamed sources.
In response, RTHK’s head of corporate communications quoted Leung as saying that the station can report on the talk, but cannot broadcast the actual speech.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed extreme regret over the decision, saying that the talk was a newsworthy event that had received a lot of attention from the public.
“The media covering events that the public is interested in, including via live broadcasts, is a normal activity; labelling an activity as ‘promoting Hong Kong independence’ and banning live-streaming is a practice that allows politics to override professional news judgment, and invites suspicion of self-censorship.”
The Association said RTHK’s decision causes concerns over whether its executives had been influenced by government officials, as the Hong Kong and Chinese governments have both made statements regarding the talk in recent days.
Last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it was “deeply regrettable” and “entirely inappropriate” for the FCC to host the talk, while a spokesperson from the foreign ministry’s office said “we are firmly against the attempt of any external forces to provide venue to the advocates for ‘Hong Kong independence’ to spread their nonsense.”
The HKJA said: “The Association previously worried that the actions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hong Kong government would lead to a chilling effect – RTHK’s decision now raises concerns that this is the case.”
The RTHK Programme Staff Union also hit back at the decision, saying that any choice to live stream was usually made by editors, and that Leung was deviating from standard practices.
“This has already put pressure on our colleagues and raises fears that it is interfering with freedom of the press.”
It asked Leung to clarify whether there was a special list of people who were not welcome to express their views on RTHK.
The Director of Broadcasting denied that the ban amounted to a suppression of press freedom and added that RTHK has “never given live coverage of a speech by a politician in the past.”