Social media platform Twitter has slapped Hong Kong’s government-backed broadcaster with a “state-affiliated media” label.
The tech platform – owned by billionaire Elon Musk – describes state-affiliated outlets as those where “the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.”
While RTHK describes itself as a public broadcaster, last November its new chief, Eddie Cheung, said that the outlet should cooperate seamlessly with the authorities. Cheung, who had no previous media experience, took over as director of broadcasting last October.
The broadcaster underwent a major revamp following the 2019 extradition bill protests and unrest. The government ordered a review of its administration following pressure from the pro-Beijing camp, which alleged it was biased against the authorities.
Several programmes, including the city’s oldest satirical show Headliner and English-language current affairs programme The Pulse, were taken off air, as veteran hosts disappeared from the airwaves. Journalist Nabela Qoser – known for her tough questioning of officials – was among those whose employment was axed, whilst two radio show hosts were fired.
RTHK deleted older content from its website, disabled “reply” comments on its Twitter account, and refused to accept awards won by a documentary about the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks. A producer of the documentary, Bao Choy, was convicted of making false statements to obtain vehicle licence records for the programme, and fined HK$6,000.
In recent years, it also launched a chat show hosted by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, issued directives to staff to use Beijing-approved wording, and announced a partnership with Chinese state media outlet CCTV amid an exodus of senior editorial staff.
Under new editorial guidelines published in 2021, RTHK told its staff to avoid contact with foreign governments or political organisations, and pledged to prevent acts that endanger national security.
Last year, a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that fewer people trusted RTHK compared to a year before.
HKFP has reached out to RTHK for comment.
Twitter recently came under fire for inaccurately labelling US public broadcaster NPR as “state-affiliated media.” It quit the platform in response.
Meanwhile, the UK’s BBC – a public broadcaster funded through a licence fee – was inaccurately marked as “government funded.” Only its international arm – which is behind the World Service – is a direct recipient of government funds.
The label was later switched to “publicly funded media.”
There remains concern over press freedom in Hong Kong 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 that press freedoms are “in tatters” after a crackdown on the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.
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