The head of the University of Hong Kong’s journalism and media studies centre, Keith Richburg, says it’s “surprising” that RTHK has pulled the plug on its live relay of BBC World Service.
RTHK’s decision came just hours after Beijing said it’s banned BBC World News from Chinese territory for what state media described as “serious content violations”.
The ban comes amid a dispute over BBC’s reporting of the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and follows a decision by the British broadcasting regulator to cancel the licence of Beijing-backed CGTN.
Richburg said RTHK’s decision was a “very worrying sign”, and the public broadcaster should explain the reasons behind it.
“Hong Kong is supposedly still autonomous, first of all. And so a decision like this seems to have been something that would have been ordered either by the Hong Kong government for RTHK or coming from the top from China and relayed to RTHK,” he said.
“It doesn’t seem like the people who make editorial decisions at RTHK would do something like this unless they are under some direction to, at least that’s what we would think, because of the autonomy of RTHK and its editorial independence,” said Richburg.
“They air critical stories all the time, they’ve gotten into trouble, as you know, for airing critical stories about Hong Kong, so the idea that they were punishing BBC by taking it off RTHK, off the air… people would want to get to the bottom of exactly why that decision was made. Who made it? Who ordered them to do it or who suggested that they do it?” The veteran journalist and academic added.
“We really kind of need to get to the background of how that decision was made and made so quickly as well. People would be very very curious to know what the decision making process was behind that.”
The RTHK Programme Staff Union, meanwhile, has called on the broadcaster and the relevant government bureau to explain the decision.
In a statement, the union says under One Country, Two Systems, it has never heard of other examples when Hong Kong has to follow instructions by the mainland’s broadcasting regulator.
It noted that RTHK’s been relaying BBC World Service for more than four decades, and it’s a pity that the arrangement has come to an end.