By Kelly Ho, Selina Cheng, Candice Chau and Tom Grundy

Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK has sought to withdraw its entries from journalism awards organised by the Society of Publishers in Asia Awards (SOPA) and the Human Rights Press Awards, HKFP has learned.

The government-funded media organisation tried to pull out of this year’s Human Rights Press Awards as well as the SOPA Awards, which were founded in 1999 “as a tribute to editorial excellence in both traditional and new media.”

RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“We received a request today from a representative of the Director of Broadcasting at RTHK asking that all of RTHK’s entries submitted to the SOPA 2021 Awards be withdrawn,” a spokesperson for the SOPA Awards Administrator told HKFP on Wednesday. “However, since the nomination period has already closed and all entries are currently under adjudication, it is not possible to withdraw any entry at this stage as it would compromise the judging process.”

It is unclear which programmes RTHK had submitted as entries and which award categories the broadcaster withdrew from.

A Human Rights Press Awards spokesperson said RTHK also tried to withdraw its submissions from their competition, but they also declined: “[B]ecause the judging process for the Human Rights Press Awards is already underway, and because entries can only be withdrawn by the individual who submitted them, HRPA has not withdrawn any RTHK entries,” the spokesperson said in an emailed response to HKFP.

Patrick Li Pak chuen. Photo: GovHK

RTHK Head of Corporate Communications & Standards Echo Wai confirmed Li’s move to HKFP: “As the Governance and Management of RTHK Review Report had identified that RTHK had room for improvement in a wide range of areas including corporate governance, RTHK is reviewing its operation, including the mechanism of nomination of programmes for local, Mainland and international awards. In this regard, RTHK decides not to nominate programmes for the selection of awards during the transition period and would withdraw the entries submission in totality.”

Ming Pao reported that RTHK also had to to withdraw entries from the Consumer Rights Reporting Awards, the Venice TV Award and the US International Film & Video Festival.

RTHK under fire

The withdrawal came after RTHK axed nine episodes from various shows since the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li took office on March 1. Li replaced the former RTHK chief Leung Ka-wing around two weeks after a government report found “deficiencies” in the broadcaster’s editorial management.

The authorities criticised RTHK as having “weak” editorial accountability, while its mechanism for handling complaints was said to “lack transparency.” The embattled broadcaster has faced a barrage of criticism from pro-Beijing lawmakers and groups for “insulting police officers” in some of its shows.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.