RTHK is not like China’s CCTV, Mr Yau

April 09, 2020 06:00
Photo: Bloomberg

Hong Kong is freer now than during colonial rule. Why? It has far more protests as part of communist China. This is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s freedom logic. Our media is free but questions that offend China are not allowed. That is Commerce Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah’s definition of media freedom.

Go ahead, laugh. It will make you feel better. We all need some comic relief from the coronavirus pandemic. Or you can cry and ask God why we are cursed with such leaders. It’s Easter. Good time to ask God for those who celebrate it.

This is what Lam said last Saturday in marking the 30th anniversary of the Basic Law: "Hong Kong has seen over 11,000 marches and gatherings in 2019, ten times the number in 1997. This proves that the freedoms enjoyed by citizens have increased instead of decreased.

You got your logic wrong, Mrs Lam. More protests doesn’t prove freedoms have improved. It proves the opposite. Hongkongers marched to protest eroding freedoms, not to celebrate increased freedoms. People didn’t have that much to protest about during colonial times. That’s why there were fewer protests.

Did millions march in the streets when Chris Patten was governor? No. Instead, they lined up to shake his hand. When he returned after the handover, adoring fans crammed into a bookstore to buy his autographed books, making him hours late to record my TV show. I still remember offering him sandwiches and French fries because he was hungry.

Can Lam boast such adulation by the people? Please let me not answer that question. I won’t even bother asking if Yau has adoring fans. Two days before Lam claimed Hong Kong’s freedoms were alive and well, Yau publicly reprimanded RTHK, which he oversees, for allowing a reporter to ask a WHO official a question about Taiwan.

The reporter simply asked the official if the WHO would consider Taiwan’s membership. Yau said the question violated the one country policy and held RTHK’s boss Leung Ka-wing accountable, accusing him of not following the government-funded station’s charter. I have read the charter. Nowhere does it say such questions can’t be asked.

Lam yesterday also insisted the question violated the one country principle. So did Yau, who sounded like a broken record when opposition legislators grilled him about it in the Legislative Council. If even a question can violate the one country policy Lam should stop claiming Hong Kong’s freedoms are intact. It only diminishes what little is left of her credibility.

In case the memories of Lam and Yau are faulty, let me remind them that Taiwan had observer status in the WHO until 2016 when it was kicked out at the insistence of China after Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwan’s president. What’s wrong with asking if the WHO would consider again its membership?

Private media organizations don’t have a government charter. What if reporters from these organizations asked the same question? Would they be violating the one country principle? When US President Donald Trump asked a Phoenix TV reporter if she was from China in reply to her question on medical aid, she said she was from Hong Kong, not China. Did she violate the one country principle?

Can RTHK reporters cover Taiwan elections? Can the station broadcast Tsai’s comments or is that off-limits too? Lam and Yau need to tell us.

On January 15 of this year RTHK ran a BBC report quoting Tsai as saying Taiwan need not declare independence because it is already independent. Did RTHK violate the one country principle? Will Hong Kong put an entry ban on the BBC reporter who asked the question?

Taiwan has received global praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic despite its proximity to mainland China where the virus first emerged. China has urged everyone not to politicize the outbreak’s origin, saying the virus knows no borders.

Yet Beijing has politicized it by blocking Taiwan from the WHO when the whole world needs to cooperate to fight the virus. Lam and Yau have politicized it by rebuking RTHK for asking a simple question.

By dictating what RTHK can or cannot ask during interviews, Lam and Yau have put Hong Kong on a very slippery slope. RTHK is not like China’s state-controlled CCTV. Is Yau’s aim to turn RTHK into a government mouthpiece? Maybe Yau should list all the questions RTHK is not allowed to ask.

Lam, acting as Beijing’s proxy, has already put Hong Kong’s freedoms on a slippery slope by disqualifying opposition election candidates, banning a political party, expelling a foreign journalist, not allowing foreign journalists expelled from the mainland to work here, withholding permission for protests during last year’s civil unrest, and making mass arrests of protesters.

Beijing loyalists never miss an opportunity to accuse democracy advocates of destroying Hong Kong. In reality, they are the ones destroying Hong Kong by blindly supporting the erosion of our freedoms. Do they not understand that Hong Kong’s free society is its strongest pillar? So much of that pillar has now been chipped away it is now in great danger of collapsing.

– Contact us at [email protected]

A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.