A leading civil servant with no broadcasting experience has taken over as head of Hong Kong’s embattled public broadcaster RTHK, where three senior employees have quit in the space of two weeks following criticism of programming from the government and pro-Beijing figures.

In a speech, former Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Li vowed to uphold editorial independence while holding government-funded RTHK to its editorial responsibilities under its charter.

RTHK Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

“I will safeguard the editorial independence of RTHK as specified in the charter,” the new director of broadcasting said outside the RTHK building on Monday. “At the same time, [I will] ensure that RTHK fulfils the required responsibilities: serves the people of Hong Kong with professionalism, performs the functions of public broadcasting and delivers high quality and diversified programmes and information to the public.”

Li said he would implement recommendations in a highly critical report from the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) last month. “I will consider and follow up on the report with the RTHK team, to ensure that RTHK, as a government department and a public service broadcaster, will have good corporate governance.”

The report had found “deficiencies” in RTHK‘s editorial management and “weak” editorial accountability. “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,” it read.

RTHK‘s charter guarantees its editorial independence but it is a government department under the oversight of the CEDB.

In response to questions about his lack of journalistic experience, Li told reporters he hoped to bring his 30 years of experience in government service to the management.

RTHK staff union chairperson Gladys Chiu. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

The previous director of broadcasting Leung Ka-wing left his post in mid-February, six months before his term was scheduled to end.

Speaking after Li’s address on Monday, chairperson of the RTHK staff union Gladys Chiu said she hoped he would address persistent problems such as outdated equipment and leaky pipes in ageing premises. “We’d like to ask Mr Patrick Li to serious consider applying his expertise in management to achieve this for RTHK.”

“We believe that actions speak louder than words and we look forward to Mr Li complying with his own promise. We also look forward to his concrete plans for the development of RTHK.

Three executives quit

On the day Li arrived, RTHK’s Head of Public and Current Affairs Doris Wong resigned, according to local media.

Wong joins two executive producers Fong Hiu-shan and Liu Wai-ling in leaving the broadcaster over the past two weeks. Fong and Liu had tendered their resignations in mid-February after refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to the government, which is now required of civil servants.

RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The government in January ordered those RTHK staffers with civil servant status to sign a declaration of allegiance to the government within four weeks or face dismissal. The deadline passed on February 18.

The government is putting increasing pressure on RTHK in an attempt to bring it under tighter control. Its annual budget was cut by 4.6 per cent for the 2021/22 financial year.

In 2020, the city’s oldest satirical show Headliner was axed after episodes critical of the police sparked a backlash. 

Separately, documentary producer Bao Choy is facing prosecution for allegedly making false statements, while reporting for an episode of Hong Kong Connection that investigated the July 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks and police actions that day.

Reporter Nabela Qoser, known for her tough questioning of officials, had her probationary period extended as an investigation against her continues.

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