Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Call to scrap Hong Kong's "BBC" raises press freedom fears

A 78-year-old Hong Kong broadcaster modelled in part on the BBC should be scrapped, a government-appointed panel said today, sparking fears that the freedom of the press was under attack. The fate of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) , arguably the most liberal and critical public broadcaster operating on Chinese soil today, had hinged on a public broadcasting review whose report was released today after a year.
Many had expected the panel to recommend hiving off RTHK - which now functions as a fully funded government department - into an independent, statutory public broadcasting corporation. Instead the panel, which is seeking to overhaul the city’s public broadcasting, called for a “newly minted” public broadcaster altogether, with no role for RTHK.
“(We want) a clean slate … We wish this future public broadcasting corporation to start afresh,” said Raymond Wong, a veteran broadcaster who chairs the Committee on Review of Public Service Broadcasting. ”You cannot have (RTHK) to overnight transform into a public broadcasting corporation …It’s only fair that you start with nothing,” he told reporters.
RTHK’s bureaucracy, existing terms and conditions of employment including staff on iron-clad civil service contracts, were some factors cited by Wong as going against it. But some groups criticised the findings as narrow and expressed concerns the government was trying to muzzle the broadcaster’s voice. ”This might undermine core values of human rights, including press freedoms,” said Serendade Woo, the Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. ”RTHK’s existed for so long, it’s full of experience. It would be easier to transform, than to scrap,” she added.
RTHK’s plight mirrors the tensions that have simmered in Hong Kong since the former colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, and incessant fears that Beijing would further erode the latitude now enjoyed in one of Asia’s freest media arenas. RTHK has faced pressure from government and hard-line Beijing voices, especially after sensitive interviews, such as those with Taiwan politicians like Vice-President Annette Lu.
The government said it would launch a public consultation at year end, before deciding on a way forward. ”This government will not do anything which will affect press freedom and freedom of speech,” said Joseph Wong, the city’s Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology to reporters.
(Source: Reuters)/.R Netherlands Media Network Weblog