Hong Kong’s public broadcaster has said it is committed to promoting public debate following reports that it has axed yet another current affairs programme, the 41-year-old City Forum.

“RTHK has to fulfil the public purposes and mission stipulated in the ‘Charter of RTHK’, including providing an open platform for the free exchange of views without fear or
favour,” it said in a statement to HKFP on Monday.

City Forum
Photo: Wpcpey via C.C.3.0.

The government-funded broadcaster, which is meant to be editorially independent, declined to comment on widespread reports of the show’s cancellation. However, it said it “will continue to produce programmes in accordance with [its charter].”

It added that it currently provides around 36 hours of open debate programmes a week across separate platforms. “Programmes of RTHK which provide an open platform for the free exchange of views include, but is not limited to, Backchat, Talkabout and Open Line, Open View,” the broadcaster said.

Media reports cited sources as saying the broadcaster has axed City Forum, a live public debate forum which has aired on Sundays for the past four decades. It had originally been set to resume after a summer hiatus later this month.

The programme invited academics and other key public figures to debate a topic of current interest and featured question and answer sessions with a live audience.

‘Severely affected’

The RTHK Programme Staff Union said on Sunday the show’s cancellation would “severely affect” its charter mission of serving as “an open platform for the free exchange of views without fear or favour.”

Press freedom journalist government
Reporters raise questions during a government press conference on September 15, 2020. Photo: GovHK.

City Forum is the latest RTHK current affairs programme to be cancelled since a new Director of Broadcasting with no previous media experience took the helm in March. Since then, it has also scrubbed its online archivespurged its Twitter accountlaunched a chat show hosted by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and issued directives to staff to use Beijing-approved wording.

Lam has also announced a partnership between the broadcaster and Chinese state media CCTV to air more mainland-produced shows to instil a sense of patriotism among Hong Kong viewers.

RTHK has seen an exodus of senior editorial staffers since the change in leadership, with ex-TV host and veteran journalist Steve Vines fleeing the city last month.

The cancellation comes amid growing concern at the state of press freedom under the Beijing-imposed national security law. The city’s press group has warned press freedoms are “in tatters” after a national security crackdown on the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper.

Apple Daily was forced to shut down after two police raids, the arrest of seven news executives and writers and the freezing of its assets.

‘Shrinking freedom of expression’

Journalist and academic Yuen Chan said the programme’s cancellation was symbolic of the city’s diminishing freedoms.

“City Forum holds a unique place not just in Hong Kong’s media landscape… It provided a platform for a mediated discussion of topical issues of social significance, one where voices from across the political spectrum could be heard and members of the public could express their opinion,” she told HKFP on Monday.

“[I]n today’s climate, where different voices are being drowned out, its demise is emblematic of Hong Kong’s shrinking freedom of expression… It is yet another sad day when even a show like City Forum can no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong,” she continued.

Update: 07.09.21: This article was updated to include Chan’s comments.

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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.