RTHK broadcasters outside of the news department were ordered not to discuss the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) removal of a Tiananmen Massacre statue on Thursday.

Two sources familiar with the matter told HKFP that discussion of HKU’s move was banned, whilst news reports on the RTHK website omitted all mention of the 1989 June 4 crackdown in Beijing.

Photo: RTHK screenshot.

When asked about the ban, RTHK told HKFP in a statement that it “will not comment on [its] internal editorial matters.”

Two RTHK stories about the removal of Tiananmen Massacre sculptures this week failed to mention what they were dedicated to. Three previous stories also omitted all mention of the military crackdown that saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, killed following the student demonstrations in Beijing.

The Pillar of Shame at the University of Hong Kong – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: HKFP.

It comes three months after new “editorial guidelines” specified that the government-funded broadcaster must “uphold the constitution.”

The Pillar of Shame is being stored outdoors in a shipping container at the University of Hong Kong’s Kadoorie Centre. Photo: HKIBC screenshot.

HKU removed the Pillar of Shame monument in the early hours of Thursday morning whilst students were on break. It cited safety issues and legal advice in a statement, and also referenced the Crimes Ordinance “under the Hong Kong colonial government.” The incident has sparked international criticism.

Activists who led commemorations in Hong Kong have been arrested, a museum raided, and an online museum has also been blocked.

Press freedom concerns

The incident is the latest controversy since a new Director of Broadcasting with no previous media experience took the helm in March. Since then, RTHK has 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. The leader said that the mainland-produced shows are aimed at instilling a “stronger sense of patriotism” among 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 changes come amid growing concern over the state of press freedom under the Beijing-imposed national security law as authorities vow to roll out “fake news” legislation. The city’s press group warned that press freedoms are “in tatters” after a crackdown on the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

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