The head of Hong Kong’s largest police union slammed public broadcaster RTHK on Tuesday for allegedly biased reporting of a weekend lockdown to combat Covid-19, joining in earlier criticism from pro-Beijing sources.

Lam Chi-wai, chair of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, said RTHK had “hurt Hong Kong” with its comments about government-issued food parcels distributed to residents.

RTHK's report on the contents of the food parcel
RTHK’s report on the contents of the food parcel. Photo: RTHK, via Facebook.

The government broadcaster, which strives to maintain editorial independence, has come under fire repeatedly from pro-Beijing institutions in recent months — this time over the arcane issue of whether residents had been given ring-pull food cans or ones requiring a can opener.

Stanley Ng Chau-pei, a Hong Kong deputy to China’s National People’s Congress, and the president of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions had lambasted the broadcaster on Sunday.

RTHK on Saturday reported the contents of a food parcel received by one of its reporters in the Jordan area, the scene of the lockdown imposed as Covid-19 cases increased in the area.

The reporter received five packets of instant noodles, a bag of macaroni, four cans of food, and a box of corn, but the guesthouse where the reporter was staying did not provide a can opener or any cooking tools.

Ng said in a Facebook post on Sunday that the RTHK reporter was “intentionally misleading” and questioned whether it was the government’s fault that the reporter was unable to cook.

“What is the intention of the reporter ‘lurking’ in some guesthouse in Jordan to ‘freely choose’ supplies provided by the government?” said Ng’s post. “You were not sure if you could cook or if you had a can opener, and how is that the government’s fault too? He who has a mind to beat his dog will easily find a stick. Intentionally misleading? is this not abuse of power?!”

Ng then accused the reporter of lacking professionalism.

RTHK hit back in a statement on Monday condemning the smearing of its report and saying it “always respected the truth and made unbiased reports impartially.”

Ng and Lam later criticised the public broadcaster for its photo of the food parcel, saying the reporter had intentionally failed to show that the cans were ring-pull ones and did not need an opener.

In a statement on Tuesday the police union’s Lam called the reporter’s photo “political smearing” intended to nitpick the government’s efforts, and said some residents revealed that none of the cans needed an opener.

However, according to photos available online, the can of luncheon meat does not have a ring-pull.

Luncheon Meat
The same brand of luncheon meat given to the RTHK reporter. File photo: Now News.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said Tuesday that journalists had a duty to monitor the government and report on the truth.

“Any malicious attacks and smearing of the media, or attempts to shut the media up, will harm the freedom of speech and press freedom and must stop immediately,” it said in a statement.

The government said on Tuesday in a clarification on Facebook that around 80 per cent of the canned foods it distributed during the lockdown had ring-pulls. It said residents could freely choose the food they wanted .

The government imposed a lockdown in Jordan for 48 hours from Saturday following a coronavirus outbreak in the Yau Ma Tei and Jordan area. Officials found 13 positive cases among the 7,000 people tested.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.