RTHK gets government oversight

15-member board may limit station's editorial independence

HONG KONG -- Public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong will be subject to regular reviews from a government appointed advisory board, it was revealed Monday.

The announcement quickly provoked fears that the station's independence was being compromised and that the government was seeking to control it through backdoor means.

The establishment of the 15-strong board was announced at the same time as the government opened its new plans for RTHK for a two month public consultation period.

Civic Act-up lawmaker Cyd Ho told a special Legislative Council panel meeting that the broadcaster would face political pressure from the advisory board. "The major problem to be solved is to give RTHK independence from government bureaucracy and financial pressures…The [proposed board] could easily be one more convenient channel to exert political pressure," she said.

The advisory board will include the director of broadcasting, media professionals, and lay members of the community. It will be responsible for advising on editorial policy, conduct audience satisfaction surveys and oversee performance evaluation.

"Really dreadful," was the verdict of Democratic Party vice chair Emily Lau. "The Executive Council made the decision that Hong Kong is not going to act like any other civilized city and have public service broadcasting. Instead we will have a government station pretending to produce public service programs…The head of RTHK will continue to be a civil servant, maybe even an executive officer. That gives no confidence that RTHK will be independently run."

Commerce secretary Rita Lau said RTHK enjoys flexible practices to meet its unique requirements, despite being a government department.