Veteran Hong Kong journalist Steve Vines has said he is disappointed that public broadcaster RTHK dropped him as a regular current affairs commentator on its Morning Brew programme after more than ten years.

Steve Vines. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Vines had shared his opinions on Hong Kong politics and news every Thursday on the music and chat programme, which covered topics ranging from current affairs to the arts. He will continue to be heard on Radio 3, but from now on as a guest co-host on current affairs programme Backchat on weekday mornings.

Vines, a columnist for HKFP, also hosts English-language television programme The Pulse on RTHK.

“I was very happy doing Morning Brew and I believed that we were building up a good audience,” Vines told HKFP. He said he was “disappointed” at being unable to continue his role on the show.

“They felt that what I was doing on Morning Brew was an opinion slot, and didn’t have balance because it’s only one opinion and did not have others,” he said.

The change was announced on April 1 during the Morning Brew programme hosted by Phil Whelan. “I’d like to tell you that today is Steve’s last appearance on Morning Brew, but have no fear, he’s going to continue being a regular broadcaster on Radio 3,” said Whelan.

“Now as you will know we need to make doubly, doubly sure all of our programmes are balanced and unbiased. So in Steve’s current role on Morning Brew as a commentator, which is kind of like an opinion piece writer in a newspaper, that is obviously not always possible, but on Backchat as a co-presenter on a panel, it absolutely is,” he said.

An RTHK spokesperson said in response to HKFP‘s enquiry that the decision was made by Radio 3 producers.

“Steve Vines was the only commentator on Radio 3 doing a solo regular slot of this kind. So there was no chance for balance, or different views in that format. Morning Brew doesn’t plan to replace him,” the spokesperson said. Instead, Backchat “welcomes co-hosts with their own knowledge, expertise and ‘take’ on events.”

In response to HKFP‘s question over whether Vines’ viewpoints were unsuitable for RTHK, the spokesperson said: “The only unsuitable thing from our point of view was the format where he was sharing them… and doesn’t in any way restrict what has to say.”

“We think this actually makes better use of his talents as he has the chance to engage directly with guests and the audience and enjoy all the challenges of live, lively debate,” they said.

RTHK will not collect awards

There are fears that RTHK‘s editorial independence, which is mandated in its charter, is being eroded following criticism from pro-Beijing forces and the government, which says the station needs major reforms.

Nine episodes on current affairs have been cancelled and one has been placed on hold since the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li took office on March 1, after his predecessor resigned ahead of time.

The new management at the government-funded station has tried in vain to withdraw entries submitted earlier for the city’s Human Rights Press Awards. Two RTHK Chinese-language television programmes have won awards in different categories, Ming Pao newspaper reported on Wednesday.

An episode of the programme This Week was selected, as was an episode of Hong Kong Connection which investigated the aftermath of the July 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks, the paper said. The latter was a winner in the Chinese Documentary Video category.

One of the episode’s producers Bao Choy was charged with making false claims when searching for vehicle licence plate records related to potential suspects in the 2019 attacks. She pleaded not guilty in March and is awaiting judgement on the case.

The winners will be announced on May 6, but there will be no awards ceremony this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bao Choy outside the West Kowloon Magistrates Court. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Organisers of the awards have said RTHK acted too late and that entries can only be withdrawn by the individual who submitted them. The broadcaster has said it will not collect any awards it wins.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

“In this regard, RTHK decides not to nominate programmes for the selection of awards during the transition period.”

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.