Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing, who heads Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), told the public broadcaster’s news department that the station must not broadcast the speech to be given by pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) on any of its channels, including its social media outlet, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing a source.
The order has sparked concerns because the RTHK Charter stipulates that it should “provide an open platform for the free exchange of views without fear or favor” as a public service broadcaster, although the Director of Broadcasting, who acts as its editor-in-chief, has the final say on editorial matters.
Chan is scheduled to speak on Hong Kong independence at a regular lunchtime event of the FCC on Aug. 14. He is the co-founder and convenor of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), which is facing a possible ban from Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told reporters on Sunday that it is entirely inappropriate for the club to invite Chan to give a speech.
An RTHK representative confirmed that Leung, when asked how to handle Chan’s speaking engagement at the FCC, told his subordinates at a regular editorial meeting that the speech should not be broadcast, live or otherwise.
Leung said that based on the RTHK Charter, the station cannot do illegal things and “should not be used as a platform to advocate Hong Kong independence”.
He also told the meeting that the station has “never given live coverage of a speech by a politician in the past”, The Standard reported.
Live-streaming of the speech on the station’s social media platform is also prohibited, Leung said.
However, he said it is okay for RTHK to report on Chan’s controversial talk, according to the spokesperson.
Leung stressed that the main principle is that RTHK does not provide a vehicle for anyone to advocate Hong Kong independence, adding that he is willing to take any blame arising from his decision.
The spokesperson said it is not fair to accuse the broadcasting chief of suppressing press freedom or freedom of expression because he did not do so.
Chan, who vowed to be present at the club’s event next Tuesday, accused RTHK of suppressing press freedom and violating the principle of unbiased reporting.
He said whether his words or acts are illegal is something that a court of law should determine, but insisted that there is no reason to prohibit the live broadcast of his speech.
In a statement, the RTHK Programme Staff Union said the FCC event is clearly newsworthy as it includes not only Chan’s speech but also the open forum, which the public has the right to know.
The union said some of its members are worried over a continuing fallback in the bottom line for press freedom.
It urged to clarify if RTHK, as rumored, has received from Beijing’s liaison office a list containing the names of “dissident” commentators.
Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing called Leung’s decision regrettable, noting that it seems political consideration has overridden professional news judgment and this has raised concerns about self-censorship.
Siding with Leung, lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who represents the functional constituency of sports, performing arts, culture and publication, said no organization should provide a platform for independence advocates to promote their ideas, adding that the issue has nothing to do with freedom of speech or the press.
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