16 February 2019
RTHK and HKU have a long-standing reputation for autonomy, but they can be truly independent of the government only if they are privatized. Photos: Wikimedia, HKU
RTHK and HKU have a long-standing reputation for autonomy, but they can be truly independent of the government only if they are privatized. Photos: Wikimedia, HKU

Why RTHK and HKU should be independent of the govt

Why are there always people kicking up a fuss about the autonomy of RTHK and the University of Hong Kong every couple of years?

Aren’t RTHK and HKU already independent institutions with full autonomy, some may ask.

The answer is simple: these two institutions are independent in name only.

Those who kick up the biggest fuss are often people who have a vested interest in these institutions, and the last thing they want is RTHK and HKU gaining true independence from the government and enjoying full autonomy, because if that comes true, their interests will be threatened.

The HKU convocation will convene an urgent meeting on Sept. 1.

Among the motions to be put to the vote is one proposed by legislator Ip Kin-yuen and 23 other alumni,

It demands that HKU’s council make a decision on whether to name Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun the university’s fifth pro vice chancellor, as recommended by the search committee, or else publish a written explanation for not doing so.

Their demand sounds intimidating, but it probably won’t make any difference whatsoever.

What could be easier than for the council to prepare a written statement to justify whatever it has decided.

How many written explanations would the convocation like to have: 10 or 20?

Since I support all kinds of progressive movements that aim to bring about change in society, I will still attend that urgent meeting and cast my vote.

However, as a seasoned political commentator, I must point out that if we don’t ditch the “slave’s mindset” and start standing up for the rights to which we are entitled, instead of begging the dictators for leniency, the convocation’s action will end up being nothing more than a symbolic ritual, like the June 4 candlelight vigil and the July 1 protest.

Ip said he would push for an amendment to the law to abolish the long-standing system under which the city’s chief executive is the ex-officio chancellor of its universities.

Unfortunately, changing the law is within the jurisdiction of the Legislative Council.

Under the split voting system, it is almost certain that any amendment put forward by the pan-democrats will be defeated, and there is nothing the great HKU convocation can do about that.

It is in fact so typical of the pan-democrats to come up with plans like that, because as always, all they are good at is pulling publicity stunts instead of putting up a real fight, and what usually follows is a big round of applause they give themselves and the three cheers from their ignorant supporters.

If I were Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, I would order the HKU council to call another meeting and formally reject the appointment of Chan as pro vice chancellor.

Only a whip can remind a slave of his identity, while kindness may often give him the wrong impression that he is calling the shots.

As our national anthem has taught us, the only way to cease being a slave is to rise against the dictators, not to reason with them.

Therefore, in the short run, the only way to break the stalemate is for the students and alumni to boycott classes and occupy the campus.

In the long run, privatization is the only way to guarantee the full autonomy of our universities, to keep them away from the claws of political interference once and for all.

As the oldest and most prestigious university in Hong Kong, HKU should take the lead in doing so.

The same reasoning also applies to RTHK.

The problem with the RTHK is that its staff want to have it both ways — on one hand insisting on remaining on the civil service payroll for the sake of job security, but on the other hand demanding full autonomy and press freedom.

As a result, the public often gets entangled in endless arguments over the status of RTHK.

And the people of Hong Kong are just getting fed up with that.

The most pressing task for Leung Ka-wing, RTHK’s new chief, is not to monitor the organization on behalf of the government but, rather, to lead RTHK toward privatization, like the BBC.

In fact it is wrong to assume that the government has to maintain its own institutional mouthpiece in the traditional sense, for in the digital era, the government can set up its own official news agency easily.

I believe the public would be happy to see RTHK gain full independence from the government bureaucracy.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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