Major journalism awards reject Hong Kong public broadcaster’s bid to pull entries

Christy Leung
·4-min read

Organisers have rejected RTHK’s requests to withdraw all its entries from two major journalism awards, after the Hong Kong public broadcaster cited an ongoing review of operations as the rationale.

The Post understands some of the submitted productions were deemed “sensitive” by the broadcaster, which recently appointed a new director.

Among the programmes put forward was a documentary worked on by freelance journalist Bao Choy, who is being prosecuted for using a government database to access car ownership information while co-producing an episode for the station.

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The government-funded broadcaster’s attempts to pull out of the annual ceremonies – the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Awards and the Human Rights Press Awards – followed Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor this week issuing her backing for its new director of broadcasting.

She said Patrick Li Pak-chuen, who also serves as editor-in-chief and has faced accusations of editorial interference, had been meeting her expectations since he took the helm on March 1.

Both award shows confirmed on Wednesday that Li, or his representatives, had requested the withdrawal of all its submissions. However, they said their rules did not allow for entries to be pulled at this stage, as the adjudication process had already begun.

An RTHK spokeswoman said a report had identified room for improvement in a wide range of areas including corporate governance, leading the organisation to review its operations, such as the framework for nominating programmes for awards locally, in mainland China and internationally.

“In this regard, RTHK has decided not to nominate programmes for awards during the transitional period and has withdrawn their entries from those competitions,” the statement read.

“The intellectual property rights of RTHK programmes belong to RTHK. RTHK would like the award organisers to respect RTHK’s decision aforementioned.”

It is unclear what submissions RTHK has attempted to withdraw and which one is from Bao.

The veteran investigative reporter, who co-produced an episode of the RTHK television show Hong Kong Connection about the Yuen Long mob attack in 2019, is accused of knowingly making false statements when accessing a driver’s information on a public register.

Patrick Li is RTHK’s new director of broadcasting. Photo: Felix Wong
Patrick Li is RTHK’s new director of broadcasting. Photo: Felix Wong

Prosecutors argued she only intended to use that information for journalism purposes, rather than the “traffic and transport-related” reason she cited. Choy has pleaded not guilty to two counts of making false declarations.

Principal Magistrate Ivy Chui Yee-mei ruled there was a case against Choy based on the evidence presented in court. A judgment is expected on April 22.

The Human Rights Press Awards confirmed Li had contacted them to request that its entries be withdrawn from consideration “in totality”, citing a review of its corporate governance including the nomination procedure for press awards.

“However, because the judging process for the Human Rights Press Awards is already under way, and because entries can only be withdrawn by the individual who submitted them, HRPA has not withdrawn any RTHK entries,” its statement read.

The awards this year are organised by The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).

HKJA expressed deep regret at the RTHK move, saying media organisations should encourage staff to run for awards and that they could serve as motivation to raise the quality of news output.

SOPA, which has organised the awards since 1999, also confirmed receiving a request on Wednesday from a representative of the RTHK’s director of broadcasting, seeking the withdrawal of all RTHK entries for the 2021 awards.

“However, since the nomination period has already closed and all entries are currently under adjudication, it is not possible to withdraw any entry at this stage as it would compromise the judging process,” a SOPA spokesman said.

Bao Choy, charged with making false declarations, arrives at West Kowloon Court. 24MAR21 SCMP/ Winson Wong
Bao Choy, charged with making false declarations, arrives at West Kowloon Court. 24MAR21 SCMP/ Winson Wong

Last year, a report from RTHK news programme The Pulse on “re-education camps” in Xinjiang province won several major gongs, including a silver award for documentaries at the 2020 New York Festivals.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah, accused the programme of breaching the “one country, two systems” governing principle for Hong Kong, declaring that then director of broadcasting Leung Ka-wing should be held responsible.

Since Li replaced veteran journalist Leung Ka-wing, RTHK has so far axed at least three shows it considered biased or inaccurate.

The latest programme to be dropped was this week’s episode of Hong Kong Connection featuring Syzygia, which ran the Chinese University student union but disbanded after management accused it of potentially breaching the national security law.

The other two shows RTHK said were pulled in a statement on Monday were an episode of Hong Kong Stories in which hip-hop group LMF was expected to take part, and LegCo Review, a talk show centred on Hong Kong’s controversial electoral overhaul.

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