Hong Kong’s public broadcaster will not live stream a speech by the founder of a separatist party the government is seeking to ban, saying it should not be used as a platform to advocate independence.
Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing on Thursday said his decision not to air on RTHK next Tuesday’s talk by Hong Kong National Party leader Andy Chan Ho-tin at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) had nothing to do with press freedom.
RTHK quoted Leung as saying the station had never given live coverage to a speech by a politician in the past.
The broadcaster’s head of corporate communications, Amen Ng Man-yee, also quoted Leung as stating: “RTHK, as a public broadcaster, should not be used as a platform to advocate Hong Kong independence.”
She said Leung had made it clear it was acceptable to cover the issue of independence, given that Chan was recently invited as a guest on a round table discussion show on RTHK, but a live broadcast of a “solo-talk advocating independence” was going too far.
Leung had told staff at the meeting they could record Chan’s FCC talk and go ahead with news coverage, she added.
A source said more than one person in the meeting had opposed the restriction and raised concerns about press freedom.
RTHK’s Programme Staff Union issued a statement on Thursday evening, urging Leung to clarify his stance. It said the news value of the talk was “self-evident” following its wide coverage in local and international media.
“The event itself not only includes Chan’s speech, but also a question-and-answer session,” the union said. “Whether to broadcast live or not is a decision usually taken by the department editor. The unusual involvement of the director has put pressure on colleagues and raised concerns of interference with press freedom.”
To Yiu Ming, a former assistant professor who taught journalism at Baptist University, saw the restriction as self-censorship.
“It is not based on news value but political considerations. That’s why I oppose it,” he said.
Lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok supported Leung’s stance.
“Not only because RTHK is run by public money, no responsible media organisation should promote this party,” he said, adding that spreading separatist ideas had nothing to do with press freedom.
Chan’s National Party is facing a proposed ban initiated by police under the Societies Ordinance. The Security Bureau originally gave the party 21 days to submit arguments against the proposal, but it later extended it by another 28 days, until September 4.
No political group has been banned since Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Additional reporting by Alvin Lum