The government said on Friday that public broadcaster RTHK has "serious inadequacies" in its editorial processes and lacks transparency in handling complaints, telling the station to map out a timetable to make improvements recommended in a review report.
This comes after a six-month-long investigation led by former permanent secretary of the Chief Executive's Office, Jessie Ting, looked into the governance and management of RTHK, which has been embroiled in numerous controversies over its output since Hong Kong's social unrest erupted in the summer of 2019.
The report said the investigation team found "weak accountability" at RTHK owing to the lack of well-defined and properly documented editorial processes and decisions, and no clear allocation of roles and responsibilities among staff.
It added that current editorial decisions are mainly made by individual employees, while the director of broadcasting, who's also the editor-in-chief, and senior management have been left in a "passive" position.
Edward Yau, who heads the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) that oversees the station, said the decision-making role of the director of broadcasting should be highlighted, brushing aside concerns that the incoming head of RTHK, Patrick Li, has no broadcasting experience.
"The responsibility on the editor-in-chief is not loading everything on his shoulders. As the [head of] department [and] the public broadcaster, of course the director will need to work together with his directorate team and everyone in the department," Yau said.
The review report also urged the public broadcaster to seek advice proactively from the station's Board of Advisers on matters related to editorial principles and public complaints.
Yau insisted that the government is not trying to weaken RTHK's editorial autonomy.
"As I have quoted just now a statement made by RTHK's producer guidelines, it says that 'there will never be editorial autonomy without responsibility, freedom without restraint.'
"So it's part and parcel of the entire management's duty for RTHK to exercise every right they have within the autonomy given to them. But at the same time they also need to fulfil the responsibility laid out in their own guidelines."
The report also said RTHK lacks transparency in dealing with public complaints as it only discloses the number received and this means there is no assurance that they are handled properly.
The report said the broadcaster should step up its editorial training for workers, and consider engaging internal or external independent reviewers to regularly assess its programmes.
The Permanent Secretary for the CEDB, Clement Leung, said RTHK will have to set a timetable to make the improvements recommended and report back to the bureau, but there is no deadline at this point.
"We will have to give the management and RTHK a bit of time to work out how it is going to go about implementing the recommendations of the report. We have not today set any deadline," he said.
Leung said the station should prioritise its editorial management and complaints mechanism, before enhancing its performance evaluation, financial management, as well as procurement processes, which are all looked into in the review report.
RTHK said it received the report on Friday morning and would study the findings and recommendations seriously.