Hong Kong’s government has the power to surcharge its employees, said public broadcaster RTHK, after local media reported that management may recover the product cost of axed programmes from the crew.

A spokesperson for RTHK told HKFP on Wednesday that, as a government department, the broadcaster has to abide by all government rules and regulations. Its staff are subject to the Public Finance Ordinance, the statement read, which stipulates that the government may surcharge a civil servant “such sum as appropriate if [he or she] has improperly incurred expenditure at the time of employment.”

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

“It is imperative that RTHK deploys public resources prudently and in accordance with its public purposes and mission as stipulated in the Charter,RTHK‘s spokesperson said.

According to the ordinance, the authorities may surcharge a public servant up to half of their monthly salary, wages or pension in one month.

The statement came after media reports cited sources as saying some senior executives of the government-funded organisation warned its employees that they may need to defray the cost of producing shows and programmes that were pulled from airing.

The person facing a surcharge may file an appeal to the chief executive within a period of 30 days. The city’s leader may confirm the surcharge or instruct the person to be released fully or in part from the paying the sum. The financial secretary may also withdraw the surcharge “in respect of which a satisfactory explanation is received or if it otherwise appears to him that no surcharge should have been made.”

Hong Kong Connection

RTHK has cancelled at least nine episodes of various shows since the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li took office. Li, who has no journalistic experience, was installed on March 1. The latest programme in question is an episode of Hong Kong Connection about digital media outlets, which featured newspapers including HKFP and Citizen News.

It was originally scheduled for Monday night, but it was replaced by another episode about three visually-impaired musicians in Hong Kong. A source close to the matter told HKFP that the management said last week there was no need to record a voiceover for the programme. The RTHK chief has yet to review the episode, the source said, adding it remains unclear whether the episode will be broadcast.

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

Management demanded that the episode about press freedom include additional segments showcasing pro-establishment media, the source said last week.

‘Internal matters’

HKFP also learned that the Education and Recreation Section has started producing a programme to replace another Hong Kong Connection episode slotted for April 12. It was said that the original episode was related to Covid-19 vaccines.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, RTHK‘s spokesperson said programme content, manpower deployment and broadcast scheduling were “internal matters” of RTHK: “As for the details of individual programmes which are to be broadcast, please refer to RTHK official website.”

The embattled broadcaster has come under fire from pro-Beijing politicians and groups for programmes and shows that are allegedly “biased” against the police and the government. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in February that it was “unacceptable” for RTHK to receive seven substantiated complaints over the past two years.

The government has signalled an overhaul for the broadcaster, after an official report found “deficiencies” in RTHK‘s governance and management. The media organisation, which is meant to enjoy editorial independence, was criticised as having “weak” editorial accountability and its channels for handling complaints were said to lack “sufficient transparency.”

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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.