RTHK has refused to comment on the whereabouts of its English-language radio presenter Hugh Chiverton after he disappeared from the airwaves without explanation over two weeks ago.

He last hosted the Backchat morning show on RTHK 3 on September 3. However, the episode remains missing from the online archive.

Hugh Chiverton. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The topic of the programme was “civil society” and included former City University academic Joseph Cheng, Dr Lim Tai-wei of the National University of Singapore and Dr Eugene Chan – president of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals and a former RTHK board chairman.

According to a source familiar with the matter, Chiverton “was told he received an instruction that he could no longer host the programme anymore” following the civil society episode.

‘No comment’

When asked by HKFP about the whereabouts of the host, and whether he would return to the airwaves, an RTHK spokesperson said they would “not comment on the arrangement of individual programmes.”

On Monday Chiverton told HKFP he was still at RTHK but was was unable to comment, referring the reporter to the broadcaster’s corporate communications.

RTHK did not directly address why content was removed from its online archive, but the spokesperson said that “RTHK reviews the programme content from time to time to ensure the compliance with the Charter of RTHK, the Producers’ Guidelines and the Communications Authority’s (CA) Codes of Practices.”

In July, Chiverton and his co-host Karen Koh interviewed Chief Executive Carrie Lam in an hour-long, heated interview focused on the security law crackdown.

Lam told Koh she was treading on “very dangerous lines” after she made comments about the government’s lack of open dialogue during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest. Lam cautioned the journalist after Koh interrupted the chief executive’s condemnation of the “riots.”

RTHK is a government-owned broadcaster funded by taxpayers, though is meant under its charter to be editorially independent.

Press freedom concerns

Chiverton’s disappearance from Backchat is the latest controversy since a new Director of Broadcasting with no previous media experience took the helm in March. Since then, RTHK has also scrubbed its online archivespurged its Twitter accountlaunched a chat show hosted by 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. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

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 in August.

The future of Backchat is in the spotlight amid growing concern over 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 now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

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