The Democratic Party today condemned calls in Beijing by leading China
advisor Xu Simin to silence criticism of Hong Kong government policies
on government-funded broadcaster Radio-Television Hong Kong, known as RTHK.
Hong Kong Chief Executive C.H. Tung, when asked in Beijing to comment,
did not repudiate the censorship suggestion, but said instead: "...While
freedom of speech is important, it is also important for government policies
to be positively presented." Chinese People's Political Consultative
Committee Standing Committee member Mr. Xu objected to a RTHK television
programme in which Martin Lee criticised Hong Kong's electoral arrangements.
The attack on the Hong Kong broadcaster came in a week which has seen
the government refuse to prosecute Xinhua, the New China News Agency, for
clear offenses under the Privacy Ordinance and as government officials
have been criticised for intimidation for demanding apologies from ATV
for on-air criticism from media personality Albert Cheng. Democratic Party
Chairman Martin Lee and Sin Chung Kai, the Democrats' spokesman on Information
Technology and Broadcasting held a press conference today to denounce the
attack on RTHK's editorial independence and to endorse the importance of
"I hope this does not signal a desire to transplant the communist
system of propagandistic journalism into Hong Kong. No government or individual
wants to be criticised by the press -- I don't like it myself. But it is
press freedom which provides the most important check on government excess
and thus protects all of our other rights.
The press is not supposed to be the defender of government policies.
Except in authoritarian countries, it is the norm for government-funded
broadcasters to enjoy autonomy and to freely criticise the government --
consider the examples of the BBC and the US's National Public Radio, which
frequently investigate and criticize government activities.
Mr. Tung should be embracing journalistic criticism as a sign to the
world that press freedom flourishes under Chinese rule. Instead, this incident
jeopardizes not only the autonomy of RTHK -- but also the autonomy that
Hong Kong is guaranteed in the Joint Declaration. We call on Mr. Tung to
clarify his remarks and to reiterate that RTHK and all Hong Kong journalists
will enjoy genuine press freedom, now and in the future."
"RTHK as a public institution should be responsible, objective
and provide different kinds of programming to the public. It should not
be used as a mouthpiece for the government, nor only positively present
government policies. Muzzling non-government views is guaranteed to exacerbate
tensions in the society."
Thursday, March 5, 1998
South China Morning Post
Tung Sparks RTHK Autonomy Fears
LINDA CHOY in Beijing and CHRIS YEUNG There were fears for the independence
of RTHK last night after Tung Chee-hwa said the government broadcaster
should be promoting official policy.
Amid calls for greater control of the station, he said: "There
have been a lot of comments on RTHK. While freedom of speech is important,
it is also important for government policies to be positively presented.
I will look into the matter further."
At a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sub-group meeting
yesterday, Standing Committee member Xu Simin, 86, said RTHK was critical
of Beijing, the SAR Government and Mr Tung.
Describing it as a "remnant of British rule", Mr Xu said:
"It is against the SAR Government and Mr Tung under the pretext of
"Mr Tung is completely helpless. I have proposed thrice that he
do something. He only says 'slowly, slowly'."
Mr Tung would be unable to rule effectively without a supportive RTHK,
he said. Mr Xu claimed the station carried speeches aimed at sabotaging
the voter registration exercise.
Referring to a television programme on the registration exercise during
which Democratic Party chief Martin Lee Chu-ming criticised the electoral
system, Mr Xu said: "How can a station which receives $200 million
a year from the Government call on people not to take part in the registration
exercise, which cost $60 million?"
Mr Xu admitted he was not a frequent listener to, or viewer of, RTHK
programmes, but said some phone-in shows were critical of Beijing and Mr
"People tell me this radio station criticises first the mainland
Government and then Mr Tung from eight to 10 o'clock in the morning everyday.
It then does it again from four to six o'clock in the afternoon,"
After arriving in Beijing to attend today's National People's Congress
opening ceremony, Mr Tung said he would not confirm if he had said he would
handle RTHK "slowly". But he dismissed fears Mr Xu's comments
would affect staff morale.
Head of RTHK Cheung Man-yee was unavailable for comment, but the station
released a statement saying: "As a public-funded body, our prime responsibility
is to serve the public. Reporting and analysing government policy is one
of our important functions.
"At the same time, we provide sufficient time for the public to
air their views. We hope Mr Xu can spend more time listening and watching
Cliff Bale of the RTHK Programme Staff Union said staff were concerned
about Mr Tung's desire to look into their operation.
"They are worried that after such a study, there's a possibility
we will operate differently with more emphasis on reporting positively
government policies," he said.
Noting their present editorial independence, Mr Bale said: "We
give all views. The Government's and the criticisms. That's our role. We
now have to wait and see what Mr Tung actually means."
Mr Lee said RTHK should be allowed to criticise government policies
and let people express their views.
"If RTHK is allowed to criticise the Government, it gives a positive
sign to the foreign community that Hong Kong still has a free press,"
"What Mr Xu wants to do is transplant the communist system into
Hong Kong. It will be Hong Kong people who kill Hong Kong, not Beijing."
Copyright ©1998 South China Morning Post Publishers
Ltd. All Rights Reserved.