The RTHK Board of Advisers has urged the public broadcaster to handle complaints “rigorously,” after its satirical programme Headliner came under fire as disparaging to the Hong Kong Police Force.

The advisors met with the Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing on Friday morning to discuss the complaints filed by Commissioner of Police Chris Tang.

RTHK Headliner
RTHK’s Headliner has received complaints after airing a controversial episode. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Tang had slammed Headliner as creating the “wrong impression” and “misunderstanding” the police force after an episode aired on February 14 jokingly implying that officers had more protective gear than other frontline government agencies and medical staff amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The police chief also complained about the February 28 episode, in which the host mentioned that the force had ruled several recent deaths in the city as not suspicious.

Eugene Chan, chairman of the Board of Advisors, said the RTHK Charter – which specifies the public broadcaster’s responsibilities – should be applied to all programmes without exception. The charter requires RTHK to provide “accurate and impartial news, information, perspectives and analyses,” as well as “be accurate and authoritative in the information that it disseminates.”

RTHK Board of Advisers chairperson Eugene Chan
Chairperson of the RTHK Board of Advisers Eugene Chan. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“We hope the director of broadcasting would handle complaints rigorously and consider opinions from all sides. We expect to receive a report after the complaints are handled,” Chan said.

Chan added Leung should meet with the advisers regularly to seek comments on RTHK’s editorial principles, standards and quality. If comments from the board are not accepted, Leung should report back and give an explanation, he said.

 Concerns over interference

Before the board meeting on Friday, some RTHK Staff Union members held signs that read “stop interference” outside the broadcaster’s headquarters and submitted a petition letter to Chan.

The union chair Gladys Chiu accused the board of interfering with the production of Headliner in a high-profile manner. She said the editing of individual shows is different from RTHK’s general editorial principles.

RTHK Staff Union protest stop interference
Some members of the RTHK Staff Union hold signs to urge the Board of Advisers to stop interfering with their editorial decisions. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“If they exert great pressure on certain programmes, it crosses the line of not interfering with our daily editing work,” Chiu said.

The union added that, based on previous board meeting minutes, a member had suggested RTHK should conduct a background check on applicants during the recruitment process. Although the suggestion was rejected, the union said such move had surpassed the board’s obligations and added up to an intervention.

“The union is strongly protesting against such moves, we are requesting the board stop interfering,” she said.

Protests against RTHK 

Outside the RTHK headquarters, protesters from police-supporting group Hong Kong Forces of Peace held signs and chanted slogans to slam the public broadcaster as “harming Hong Kong, spreading hate and vilifying the police.”

RTHK pro-police protest
Pro-police groups hold a protest outside RTHK’s headquarters on March 13. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The group’s convener and former cop Man Shek accused Headliner of falsely portraying the force and doing nothing in the fight against the outbreak, claiming the broadcaster had been spreading fake news.

“Today we are here to represent a group of citizens who are angered by RTHK’s programme, which kept degrading the police force,” Shek said.

Another pro-police activist Jacky Ko criticised Headliner as a “one-sided attack” on the police, saying the organisation should be “privatised” or “disbanded” to prevent it from “spreading hate” while using public funds.

RTHK pro-police protest
Hong Kong Forces of Peace protest outside RTHK headquarters on March 13. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“A lot of citizens are now joking that RTHK does not have any reporters, they are just writers, because reporters are supposed to report on both sides to present the truth comprehensively,” he said.

Letter to RTHK staff 

In a letter to RTHK employees on Thursday, Leung fended off criticism stating that Headliner – which has been on air for 30 years – had an “unambiguous” character in that it was satire about current affairs, and not a news programme.

He said that, while Headliner had received 6,500 complaints between February 1 and March 8, the programme also received more than 34,000 compliments.

Leung Ka-wing
Leung Ka-wing. File photo: Citizen News.

“[Headliner] belongs to a rare genre that reflects the social pulse, while serving as a vent for grudges and resentment,” he wrote.

The RTHK chief said the public broadcaster shared the same vision as other governmental units – to serve the citizens of Hong Kong. He called for departments to show mutual respect and understanding for their respective duties.

“It is not easy to gain approval from the citizens. To each RTHK colleague, thank you once again for your contribution,” Leung said.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.