Staff at public broadcaster RTHK have been ordered to refer to Taiwan as part of China, according to an internal memo obtained by HKFP.

It has also banned staff from referring to leader Tsai Ing-wen as “president.” The terms “country”, “Republic of China” and “ROC” are also now banned: “Under no circumstances should Taiwan be referred to as a sovereign state or perceived as one,” the memo read.

Photo: RTHK memo obtained by HKFP.

RTHK staff must now refer only to “Taiwan leader” or “the most senior leader of Taiwan” when referencing Tsai, whilst “Taiwan authorities” must be used in place of “Taiwan government.”

Tuesday’s instruction refers to all output on the radio, TV and internet. “The examples… are by no means exhaustive and RTHK shall carefully regularize and standardize the use of terms in relation to Taiwan as appropriate…,” the memo said.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan — which occupied the island for 50 years — was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

Edward Yau
Edward Yau in a press conference on February 19, 2021. Photo: GovHK,.

Last Wednesday at the legislature, Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Luk Chung-hang suggested to Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau that the embattled broadcaster may be breaking the one-China policy. Yau stated only that RTHK will continue to follow its charter.

RTHK cleared of wrongdoing

Last year, Yau accused RTHK – which is meant to editorially independent – of breaching the one-China policy after one of its journalists pressed the World Health Organization’s Bruce Aylward on Taiwan’s status.

RTHK’s The Pulse programme released an interview with Aylward, where the physician-epidemiologist appeared to pretend not to hear producer Yvonne Tong’s question about whether the UN body would reconsider Taiwan’s membership. When asked a second time, Aylward ended the video call.

The Pulse was cleared of wrongdoing in June by the Communications Authority. However, Yong had already quit, and RTHK axed the current affairs show entirely earlier this month.

RTHK has undergone a series of editorial shake-ups since the arrival of the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li in March. At least ten episodes of various shows have been censored before they were broadcast, while at least five top executives have resigned or took early retirement amid a staff exodus.

The broadcaster has faced a barrage of criticism from pro-Beijing figures and groups for “biased reporting” against the government and police, and was ordered by the authorities in February to tackle “deficiencies” in editorial management. In May, it deleted most of its archive from the internet. In March, it sought to withdraw its entries from journalism awards.

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

In its annual report last week, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said press freedoms in Hong Kong were “in tatters.”

When asked what prompted Tuesday’s memo, RTHK did not respond to HKFP’s question. However, a spokesperson said that “promoting understanding of the concept of ‘One Country, Two Systems’; and engendering a sense of citizenship and national identity” was part of RTHK’s charter.

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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.