Taxpayer-funded public broadcaster RTHK has refused to say why it has deleted a story from its website about proposals for a new law criminalising insults against public officers.

Photo: HKFP/RTHK Screenshot.

The article, headlined “Hong Kong could make insulting anyone a crime,” was published on Thursday and quoted pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat asking about the legal proposal at the legislature. But – by Friday – the story had disappeared from the internet without explanation.

“RTHK will not comment on the internal editorial matters of individual productions,” the broadcaster said, when asked by HKFP why the article was removed. RTHK did not state whether or not it will be reinstated.

The story was still accessible via Google’s cache on Friday morning.

RTHK is a government department, but is meant to be editorially independent.

Series of controversies

The deletion 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 and restricted 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 in August.

RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

This month, RTHK adopted new guidelines stating that it must “uphold” the constitution, whilst staff must avoid contact with foreign governments or political organisations. The public broadcaster pledged to prevent acts that endanger national security in the new editorial guidelines.

The changes come amid growing concern over the state of press freedom under the Beijing-imposed national security law as the authorities vow to roll out a “fake news” law. The city’s press group has warned press freedoms are “in tatters” after a crackdown on the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

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