Hong Kong government-funded broadcaster RTHK has removed from its newsroom a letter of gratitude for its reporters’ coverage of the Tiananmen crackdown, ahead of the anniversary of the 1989 incident, the RTHK Program Staff Union told HKFP.

rthk television house broadcast headquarters logo (1)
RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The one-metre-long letter, which had been displayed in the newsroom for 34 years, was presented to reporters who covered the Tiananmen protests and crackdown in Beijing, according to RFA Cantonese and local newspaper Ming Pao.

“Standing firm at the forefront of reporting on the Beijing incident, setting an exemplary standard for professional broadcasting, standing guard at our roles, demonstrating fearless dedication, reporting with utmost truth and sincerity, we sincerely salute you,” the letter read.

The broadcaster told HKFP that from time to time it carried out work to maintain its offices in accordance with accommodation regulations covering government premises, adding that it refused to comment on “individual speculative reports.”

The RTHK Program Staff Union confirmed with HKFP that the appreciation letter was no longer on display as of Monday morning. “As for who took down the letter, please enquire the Communication Department,” the union representative said.

Citing sources, Ming Pao reported that Wong Kam-fung, head of the Chinese News Current Affairs team, was the one who ordered the removal of the thank-you letter. According to previous reports, the veteran journalist has been at the helm of the news team since 2016.

Ming Pao later issued a correction, saying they had learned that the removal of the letter was not ordered by Wong. The newspaper apologised for its previous report.

RTHK 64 letter
The gratitude letter to RTHK’s reporters. Photo: Steven Chow.

Steven Chow, a former journalist and editor who worked at RTHK for 12 years, told HKFP that he saw the appreciation letter as a pure tribute to journalists, “I do not understand – or maybe I do – what exactly the people in power are so afraid of after 34 years, neither do I think they are qualified to take away this [honour] that was meant for predecessors in the news department.”

The ex-editor said people nowadays reacted to the term “Tiananmen crackdown” as if they were characters in the Harry Potter series who heard the name of Voldemort: “The Hong Kong Radio News Department has fallen to a state that cannot be described in words. It has transformed from being the voice of the people to the mouthpiece of the government. Them tearing down the letter does not surprise me at all,” he said.

The Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989, ended months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

Victoria Park June 4 Tiananmen vigil playground basketball
Victoria Park on May 3, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the promulgation of the Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020, Hongkongers had for decades held annual candlelight vigils at Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen victims. The assembly was banned in 2020 amid Covid-19 restrictions, and there has been no vigil for the past three years.

Officials have declined to say whether attempts this year to stage a commemoration would be illegal. Secretary for Security Chris Tang said on Monday that authorities would take action against people who plan to harm national security on “a special occasion in a few days time.”

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.