Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK has rejected an allegation that it distorted a video interview with a World Health Organisation (WHO) doctor after he refused to answer questions about Taiwan’s membership status.

WHO adviser Dr Bruce Aylward appeared to end a Skype call with producer Yvonne Tong from RTHK’s current affairs programme The Pulse last month after she asked whether the UN body would reconsider Taiwan’s bid to join. He also declined to answer a question about the government’s handling of the outbreak.

The World Health Organization’s assistant director-general Bruce Aylward (right). Photo: RTHK screenshot.

In an emailed response to HKFP on Thursday, a WHO spokesperson accused The Pulse of editing the clip and causing a misrepresentation. They also claimed it was Aylward – not the producers – who took the initiative to call back after the connection was apparently cut.

“RTHK re-shot the interviewer and questions afterwards and edited the interview in a way that created substantial distortion and misrepresentation,” it read.

The spokesperson also said RTHK had declined to share the unedited interview footage with the UN body.

In response to the allegations – first reported by the Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala – RTHK’s Head of Corporate Communications and Standards Amen Ng told HKFP that they stood by the content of the interview and “strenuously reject any allegations of ‘distortion and misrepresentation.'”

“None of the shots of the interviewer or her questions were re-filmed after the interview,” the written response read. Ng defended the decision not to release non-transmitted materials to WHO as a standard “in common with news broadcast and media organisations worldwide and to ensure editorial independence.”

She added that it was RTHK who sought to reconnect the call: “We would point out that the inability to hear a repeated question, the encouragement to forget it and move to another question, the inability to hear it a second time, and the lost connection, occurs in one single 18 second UNCUT shot. It is this sequence that drew international attention.”

Gov’t intervention

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which oversees RTHK, released a statement on behalf of secretary Edward Yau criticising the programme after it was broadcast. It claimed the line of questioning had breached the One-China Principle and its charter.

“It is common knowledge that the WHO membership is based on sovereign states,” the statement read. “As the Editor-in-chief of RTHK, the Director of Broadcasting should be responsible for this.”

https://twitter.com/yvonne_tg/status/1246733489744953344

On April 7, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she endorsed and supported Yau’s position: “RTHK has to fulfil the very important and fundamental principle of upholding ‘One Country, Two Systems’.”

Four protesters previously staged a demonstration outside RTHK’s buildings, accusing Tong of being “wicked” and seeking to “incite Taiwanese independence.”

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.