A Hong Kong government report released on Friday found “deficiencies” in the editorial management of public broadcaster RTHK, which has faced a barrage of criticism from pro-Beijing groups for allegedly one-sided coverage of the government and police.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau revealed the findings of the report on RTHK’s governance and management at a press briefing. The 157-page document slammed the embattled broadcaster as having “weak” editorial accountability, claiming the chief editor and other senior management staff played a passive role in programme production.

“The governance and management of RTHK indeed have some issues. [It] must make improvements in its system, execution and monitoring,” Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau told a press conference.

RTHK is government-funded and staff have civil service status but it is committed to maintain editorial independence.

It was criticised in the report for keeping no clear records of its decision-making process on controversial and sensitive matters, while channels handling complaints were said to lack “sufficient transparency.”

Edward Yau
Edward Yau. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The six-month investigation also found the broadcaster relied heavily on 2,200 contract staffers, without any comprehensive system in place to ensure these non-civil service employees understood the station’s duties as set out in its charter.

“The lack of coordination, oversight and supervision at the corporate level can give rise to considerable risk to RTHK’s corporate image, reputation and interests,” the report said.

The organisation also failed to comply with its charter by failing to actively seek opinions from its advisory board on editorial policy and the quality of programmes, the report said.

RTHK has received seven complaints substantiated by the Communications Authority and numerous warnings over the past year. Some were linked to “insulting” police officers, which led to the suspension of political satire show Headliner last May that sparked concerns over editorial freedom.

Fears that the government was tightening its grip on the public broadcaster deepened when freelance producer Bao Choy was arrested and prosecuted for “making false statements” in order to obtain vehicle registration information. The records of vehicle ownership were used in an episode of Hong Kong Connection that investigated alleged police misconduct during the July 21 Yuen Long mob attacks in 2019.

Friday’s report recommended RTHK implement a “robust and transparent” editorial process, with clearly defined editorial responsibilities at each level. It also told the broadcaster to step up training for all staffers and engage internal or external independent reviewers to assess the quality and standards of programmes.

rthk television house broadcast headquarters logo (1)
RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Hours before the review report was published, the government announced that the Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing would leave six months early, by the end of February. The incumbent Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Li Pak-chuen – who has no experience in broadcasting – will take Leung’s place.

Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Clement Leung said the government had wanted to find Leung’s successor within the broadcasting organisation but did not find an appropriate candidate. The authorities also conducted an open recruitment exercise earlier and received 41 applications, but no candidate seemed fit for the role, he said.

Yau said the role of director of broadcasting requires both broadcasting experience and “administrative and policy strengths,” adding the new leader of RTHK would work with the advisory team and other employees to review the report and implement its suggestions.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.