The head of Hong Kong’s press group has said the authorities are moving to change the city’s public broadcaster into a propaganda mouthpiece “as soon as possible,” after the city’s leader announced a partnership between RTHK and a Chinese state media company earlier this week.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday that RTHK will partner with China Media Group – the holding group for CCTV and China National Radio – to air more programmes to “nurture a stronger sense of patriotism” among viewers.

RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Under the partnership, RTHK’s Chinese-language channel TV 31 will air a range of mainland-produced TV shows and documentaries, Lam said at an event to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Lam also announced that RTHK will produce its own programming to advocate the importance of safeguarding the country’s national security, and to promote a better understanding of developments on the mainland.

“I think most people in Hong Kong are [aware] that RTHK will become state media as soon as possible,” Hong Kong Journalists Association’s chairperson Ronson Chan told HKFP.

Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts after four members of staff from Apple Daily were denied bail on July 22, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Chan, however, questioned how popular and effective the shows will be in instilling a greater sense of patriotism in the city. “The most important thing is how Hong Kong people will accept these programmes how many people will watch or listen to such programmes,” the chairperson said. “Hong Kong is not China, we have many, many choices.”

“So I just wonder [whether] this will be effective propaganda for the Beijing authorities or just a means of HKSAR government to show their loyalty to Beijing. I think it’s the latter one,” he continued.

Free expression NGO Reporters Without Borders also condemned RTHK’s new partnership. “The Hong Kong government, which has already censored an overwhelming amount of contents and imposed a talk-show hosted by Chief Executive Lam, will find in this partnership a perfect pretext to force RTHK to distribute Chinese propaganda contents”, the head of RSF East Asia bureau, Cédric Alviani, said in a press release.

He added that the NGO denounced the “increased interference from the Hong Kong government against RTHK’s editorial freedom in a blatant violation of freedom of the press…”

‘In line with charter’

RTHK, however, has defended the new partnership, saying it is in line with its charter.

“As the public service broadcaster in Hong Kong, RTHK has to fulfil the public purposes and mission stipulated in the ‘Charter of RTHK,’ including engendering a sense of citizenship and national identity through programmes that contribute to the understanding of our community and nation,” it said in a statement to HKFP on Tuesday.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“Broadcasting more mainland programmes and developing long term partnership
with the China Media Group is in line with the charter,” it continued.

The charter also stipulates that the broadcaster should be editorially independent and impartial.

There are continued fears that RTHK‘s editorial independence is being eroded, as the pro-Beijing camp and the government call for major reforms at the station to ensure that it adheres to its charter and produces “unbiased” news coverage.

The latest developments are part of a series of changes since a new Director of Broadcasting was appointed in March. The broadcaster has since cancelled programmes, scrubbed its online archives, purged its Twitter account, launched a chat show hosted by Lam, and issued directives to use Beijing-approved wording. RTHK has also seen an exodus of senior editorial staffers, with ex-TV host Steve Vines fleeing the city last week.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.