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Staff at Hong Kong public media outlet RTHK feeling pressured to self-censor

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Reporters at RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), a public broadcaster in Hong Kong, have been told to reduce the coverage of anti-Beijing protests and movements. The broadcaster is under immense pressure from Beijing and the Hong Kong government to self-censor to appease China.

The reporters were given the warning during an internal meeting. Although it’s a public broadcaster, RTHK is editorially independent. It was established more than nine decades ago when Britain had occupied the territory, and designed as a replica of the BBC. However, since British rule ended, RTHK has had to deal with the pressure of the city’s delicate political atmosphere.

In response to growing pressure from the government, RTHK’s director of broadcasting, Leung Ka-wing, told reporters to avoid reiterating the slogans from the pro-democracy protests, according to sources close to the event, the Financial Times reported. The government-funded broadcaster has been facing push back for covering the pro-democracy protests. Some Hongkongers feel the city should sever ties with mainland China.

The journalists were also instructed to stop capturing the paraphernalia of the protesters, particularly during live coverage.

A producer with the broadcaster said, “The situation is so severe now . . . I will only include mention of sensitive topics if it is really necessary.”
Another reporter said, “I avoid interviewing people who have a pro-independence stance, even if the interview may not need to touch on their political views.”

However, RTHK’s head of corporate communications, Amen Ng, told FT that Leung had not instructed reporters to stop covering the protests. “He had reiterated many times in the past that RTHK should not be used as a platform to advocate Hong Kong independence while news reporting on such issues would be handled as usual,” Amen Ng said.

The city’s leader, who is widely unpopular for his pro-Beijing agendas, Carrie Lam launched an investigation to review the management and operations of RTHK. Soon after, the deputy director Kirindi Chan resigned.
Last week RTHK announced it would not continue airing the Headliner, a political satire show. That was after the Communications authority ruled that an episode aired in February indeed insulted the police as the city’s police chief claimed.

These attacks on RTHK, plus the new security law could turn RTHK from an editorially independent broadcaster to something that looks like the government-censored media companies of mainland China.

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