Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK made a last-minute decision to cancel a programme which would have featured a panel discussion of Beijing’s plans for a drastic election overhaul, according to a report.

The broadcast of LegCo Review was axed less than an hour before it was scheduled to be broadcast on Thursday evening, Ming Pao quoted sources as saying.

RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

It was the second time an RTHK programme had been abruptly cancelled since a leadership change at the government broadcaster at the beginning of this month.

The planned panel discussion on the election changes involved both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy figures, and an academic, according to local media. They included former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien, former opposition lawmakers Fred Li and Emily Lau, and political scientist Ma Ngok.

Beijing approved plans for the election overhaul on the last day of its annual parliamentary session on Thursday. The new regulations to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong will reduce democratic representation in the legislature, tighten control of elections and introduce a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates.

RTHK declined to comment on individual cases but told HKFP that its Director of Broadcasting and senior management “will effectively exercise editorial responsibilities and review contentious programmes prior to broadcast, to ensure that the programmes comply with the requirements of the Charter and the Guidelines.”

The cancellation of this week’s LegCo Review episode is the second time an RTHK programme segment has been cancelled since Patrick Li — an ex-bureaucrat with no former journalistic experience — took over as Director of Broadcasting. Li said on his first day in the post that he would “safeguard the editorial independence of RTHK as specified in the charter.”

On Sunday, an episode of the Hong Kong Stories programme about a local writer discussing the topic of the ocean and whales was cancelled. The episode was axed after the interviewee expressed her sentiments about the 2019 anti-government protests, according to Ming Pao citing sources.

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

RTHK told Ming Pao on Monday that the episode had been pulled after management deemed the episode did not meet its regulatory standards.

There are growing fears that Li’s appointment signals tighter government oversight and censorship of the broadcaster, which is guaranteed editorial independence in its charter.

Last June, RTHK’s long-running satire show Headliner was axed after it aired episodes poking fun at the police and the government over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The growing crackdown on RTHK has sparked fears of a shrinking space for press freedom in Hong Kong, as authorities move to quash political dissent under the national security law. One pro-establishment lawmaker has called for the public broadcaster to be merged with the government’s public relations department.

Update 12.03.21: This article has been updated to include RTHK’s comments.

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