RTHK has said it is obligated to “engender a sense of citizenship and national identity” after the broadcaster revealed it would air a daily show hosted by Chief Executive Carrie Lam four times a day.

A spokesperson told HKFP on Wednesday that the daily programme was already in line with RTHK’s charter, after they were asked if the show would be reviewed by management – like other programming – to ensure balance.

carrie lam show
Photo: ISD YouTube screenshot.

The government-owned broadcaster began airing Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors on Wednesday night. The new offering – in Chinese only – was produced by the government and was also made available through the government’s YouTube channel.

“The Charter of Radio Television Hong Kong (the Charter) requires that Radio Television Hong Kong as a public service broadcaster has to engender a sense of citizenship and national identity through programmes that contribute to the understanding of our community and nation,” the spokesperson said. “The programme, ‘Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors‘ is in line with the Charter.”

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

The spokesperson did not directly answer as to whether Lam’s show would be balanced with opinions from critics, or with a separate programme involving opposition voices.

First episode airs

RTHK reported that there will be 40 episodes in total, with two new 12-minute episodes broadcast daily until May 17.

According to Lam’s Facebook page, the show will involve guests from different electoral subsectors as the government rolls out an overhaul which will ultimately reduce democratic representation: “The restructuring of the election committee is one of the core elements among changes made to the electoral system,” Lam said. “I will invite guests from these subsectors to discuss how the restructured subsectors can be broadly representative and achieve balanced participation. You’re welcome to tune in.”

Section B.4a (ii) of the RTHK Charter states that the broadcaster must “contribute to the understanding of our community and nation” by engendering a “sense of citizenship and national identity.” Meanwhile, section C states that RTHK must be “editorially independent” and “impartial in the views it reflects… immune from commercial political and/or other influences.”

YouTube video

As of Wednesday night, the first episode had amassed 145 views on the Information Services Department YouTube channel.

Lam’s first guest was ex-Open University chief and Basic Law Committee member Wong Yuk-shan. Her second guest was Bunny Chan of the Kowloon Federation of Associations.

YouTube video

Shareholder activist David Webb questioned whether other leadership hopefuls would get equal airtime in the run-up to next year’s small-circle leadership race: “There’s something rather odd about the head of Govt interviewing people who may soon be running for appointment/election to the committee which may then decide whether she is re-elected, all on a Govt station. Will other candidates get this much airtime?” he tweeted.

RTHK under fire

There are continued fears that RTHK‘s editorial independence is being eroded. Earlier this week, a fifth senior official at the broadcaster quit amid an exodus of senior editorial staffers. Meanwhile, bureaucrats from other government departments have been appointed to newly-created positions whilst several programmes – including news items involving democrats and a satirical show – have been axed altogether.

Last month, RTHK’s editorial management team cancelled nine television programme episodes, and said it would charge staff for the cost of axed shows. The station has also asked that its entries be withdrawn from two of Asia’s top media awards.

pprb commentator
Photo: Police screenshot, via Facebook.

It is not the first time the authorities have adopted journalistic roles. On National Day in 2020, the police force raised eyebrows after deploying live “presenters” at protest sites after tightening regulations for reporters.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.