Hong Kong’s embattled public broadcaster in the cross hairs again as Carrie Lam slams ‘unacceptable’ performance in Legco session

Chris Lau
·4-min read

Hong Kong’s leader has once again lashed out at embattled public broadcaster RTHK – the subject of repeated controversies in recent years – calling its performance “unacceptable” and saying improvements were badly needed to “set things right”.

Addressing a pro-establishment lawmaker’s question at a Thursday Legislative Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also asked its head, director of broadcasting Leung Ka-wing, to make his stance clear on the complaints filed against the broadcaster.

The public broadcaster has been in the spotlight repeatedly since anti-government protests broke out in 2019, accused by administration figures and others in the pro-establishment camp of siding with activists against the government and police.

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There is a chief editor [at RTHK]. I expect the chief editor to spell out his stance on those incidents. And I am still waiting

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Legislator Steven Ho Chun-yin, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, on Thursday accused RTHK of “biased reporting”, disseminating “fake news”, making editorial mistakes, and smearing the police force.

Asked how she planned to address the network’s perceived failings, Lam said: “I would like to make clear my stance, and my stance is that improvement is badly needed by RTHK.

“As a public broadcaster and government department, in less than two years, there were seven substantiated complaints against it, including one serious warning and three warnings. This is certainly unacceptable,” the chief executive said.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam addressed complaints over RTHK at a question-and-answer session at Legco on Thursday. Sam Tsang
Chief Executive Carrie Lam addressed complaints over RTHK at a question-and-answer session at Legco on Thursday. Sam Tsang

“This is unacceptable for any government department.”

Lam was referencing rulings over complaints against RTHK made by the Communications Authority, a watchdog body consisting of administration appointees.

She added: “There is a chief editor [at RTHK]. I expect the chief editor to spell out his stance on those incidents. And I am still waiting.”

Lam added the process of making changes at RTHK had already begun.

Hong Kong’s RTHK under siege: should it be a public broadcaster or government mouthpiece?

After the Legco session on Thursday, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah, who oversees the management of the broadcaster, told reporters that the RTHK charter clearly stated that the station needed to uphold the highest professional standards of journalism.

“The government’s stance is very clear. As a government department, news agency or public service broadcaster, they should maintain this very important principle. Any inadequacy or any error that occurs, they have the responsibility to clarify, make good and apologise,” he said.

In a statement, a RTHK spokesman said: “RTHK adheres to the [charter] and always respects the opinions expressed by different groups in the community. Regarding the concerned cases or mistakes, RTHK will handle them in accordance with journalistic principles and the existing procedures and mechanisms.”

Leung Ka-wing, RTHK director of broadcasting, was called out – though not by name – by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday. Photo: Dickson Lee
Leung Ka-wing, RTHK director of broadcasting, was called out – though not by name – by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday. Photo: Dickson Lee

The recent incidents cited by Ho, the pro-establishment lawmaker, included an online report on January 25 in which the station published a news article with the Chinese-language headline: “President Xi Jinping vows to push forward multilateralism, and to engage in a new Cold War and sanctions to divide the world”.

It was later corrected to say Xi had only hailed multilateralism, and in fact warned against a new Cold War that could make the world more fragmented.

RTHK subsequently issued an apology.

In another online report on January 24, RTHK posted a picture showing canned food supplied to residents in Jordan during the first in a series of recent Covid-19 testing lockdowns.

District councillors had claimed some canned food provided by the city did not come with a pull ring, leaving elderly residents without can openers unable to eat.

Beleaguered Hong Kong broadcaster slapped with another warning from watchdog

But as the canned items in the picture were upside down, critics questioned if people had deliberately concealed the pull rings to smear the government. RTHK denied any attempt to mislead the public and said its reporters presented the news impartially.

The Post also used one of the photos, but removed it and issued a correction the next day.

The broadcaster, which costs taxpayers about HK$1 billion (US$129 million) a year, is presently the subject of a management review led by a former Lam aide after a series of controversies over its programmes last year.

The review will cover such administrative issues as financial control, human resources and procurement, as well as the broader question of whether the broadcaster has abided by its governing charter.

Lam said a report was due soon and the government would take follow-up action accordingly.

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