Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK has confirmed that it is to begin removing shows from its YouTube channel and Facebook page a year after they air. It is also moving to delete its archive of content over a year old, though it is unclear which programmes will be affected.

RTHK Youtube homepage
RTHK’s YouTube Channel. Photo: RTHK Screenshot via YouTube.

The measure is to align its social media platforms with the RTHK website, where only programmes from the past 12 months are viewable, the broadcaster’s spokesperson confirmed in a statement on Saturday.

Content began disappearing on Monday afternoon.

The news has led to concern that the bulk of RTHK‘s archival content — which, for years, has been freely accessible on the two platforms — will no longer be viewable, including episodes that reported on Hong Kong’s political turmoil since the 2019 protests, and the national security law.

With its first video uploaded in October 2007, RTHK‘s YouTube channel is now home to over 17,200 videos, 46 of which have garnered over one million views since they were uploaded.

RTHK Broadcasting House. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

More than 800 of the uploaded videos were from its English programming spanning more than a decade. The Pulse, for example, counts 326 episodes amongst the archive. The channel has over 1.14 million subscribers.

There are fears that RTHK‘s editorial independence — mandated by its charter — is being eroded after the pro-Beijing camp and the government called for major reforms to ensure that the station adheres to its charter and produces “unbiased” news coverage.

RTHK Hong Kong Connection
Hong Kong Connection is one of the RTHK programmes aired on free TV channels. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Viewers have banded together in an effort to retain RTHK’s online content. Users on the LIHKG discussion board shared resources and methods to back up the YouTube channel’s content onto Lbry – a blockchain content-sharing platform. Owing to the decentralised nature of the blockchain, videos uploaded to Lbry cannot – in theory – be removed by any platform operator or moderator over copyright infringement.

RTHK under fire

Since the arrival the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li in March, who has no media background but introduced a massive editorial overhaul, ten RTHK television episodes have been censored before they were broadcast. Meanwhile, at least five top executives have resigned or took early retirement amid a staff exodus.

One episode of the documentary programme Hong Kong Connection – which investigated the July 2019 Yuen Long mob attack near an MTR station – would be among the episodes set to be removed from the internet.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
Hong Kong documentary producer Bao Choy at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on April 22, 2021, as she is set to receive a verdict after she was accused of making false statements while obtaining public records. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Another episode that revisited the aftermath of the mob attack a year later is under a year old on the YouTube channel, but may soon be deleted if the new measures are rolled out.

Last month, freelance producer Bao Choy was fined after using vehicle public records as part of her research for the episode. RTHK later rejected an award it won for the documentary.

HKFP has reached out to RTHK for comment.

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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.