A journalist with Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK who is known for her tough questioning of officials has been told to accept a new short-term contract or face dismissal, as an investigation into her conduct continues.

The RTHK staff union and the Hong Kong Journalists Association criticised the move in the case of Nabela Qoser, saying it amounted to prejudging the investigation.

Nabela Qoser on RTHK's This Week
File Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Qoser has been offered a new probationary employment contract of 120 days after two of her previous probationary periods lapsed. She has been given seven days to decide whether or not to accept it, Apple Daily reported Friday.

Should Qoser decide not to accept the latest offer, her employment at RTHK will terminate.

Qoser has been under investigation over her conduct at government press conferences during last year’s pro-democracy protests.

She had previously been under a three-year probationary period as a civil servant employed by the public broadcaster, but it was extended in September for three months as a result of the ongoing probe.

Qoser hit the headlines in July 2019 when she grilled Chief Executive Carrie Lam and then-police commissioner Stephen Lo over the Yuen Long mob attack that month. She confronted the embattled leader over the delayed police response. “Did you learn about it only this morning? Were you able to sleep well last night?” she asked.

Gladys Chiu, an RTHK Programme Staff Union spokesperson, described the extension offered to Qoser as an insult.

gladys chiu RTHK union representative.
Gladys Chiu. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

“I believe no staff should be treated this way,” she said. “She is only given seven days of notification about an extended deadline, of a termination of employment, in fact.”

The treatment she received was “very unfair, and we feel angered by this,” said the union representative. “To extend her probation citing an incomplete investigation as a reason is to have Nabela Qoser bear the consequences for the management’s inability to live up to its promise and complete the investigation.”

The broadcaster initially promised to deliver the investigation results in early January but has since delayed the date until February 16. “Another issue is the lack of transparency. Nabela and the union have again and again enquired about the investigation’s progress, but have never received a reply,” said Chiu.

RTHK is government-funded and its staff are civil servants but it seeks to maintain editorial independence.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association also condemned the broadcaster’s decision. “This is to give a verdict before trial,” it said in a statement. “The Association requests all parties to immediately stop interfering with matters of human resources in the media, using political means.”

The association urged RTHK management to complete its investigation as soon as possible, without succumbing to political pressures.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.