Will Beijing silence RTHK?

Hong Kong’s version of national Public Radio is under threat. Even though there are supposed to be one country with two systems, the boys in Beijing still want that other system to conform to its no-dissent policies. I can’t imagine Hong Kong letting this happen without putting up a very good fight.

A quiet battle over whether the only free and independent broadcaster on the land mass of China will remain so is intensifying. Over a 77-year span, Hong Kong public radio has dished out a blend of credible news and cultural programming in three languages, served as a link between expatriates and the Hong Kong street, and has gained increasing editorial autonomy and respect in China’s most sophisticated city.

Yet that is exactly what bothers influential pro-Beijing forces who wish media to more fully trumpet government policies. Many of them see Radio Television Hong Kong, or “RTHK” as it is popularly known, as an irritant at best and a damaging critic at worst – allowing a broad range of opinion, including mild satire and programs that may challenge official proposals, all at taxpayer expense.

The basic issue: Will RTHK be cut, restricted, or turned into a cheerleader for government policies? Or will it evolve into a subsidized but separate identity, similar to the BBC or Channel 4 in London?

One distinct difference between the climate of Hong Kong and that of mainland China, is freedom of expression, experts say.

“If our independence is harmed, it affects the overall climate of freedom here,” says Francis Moriarty, who heads the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club press freedom committee, and is an RTHK staffer. “If RTHK is doing hard-hitting stories, others have to work hard, too. In a Hong Kong context, we are the canary in the mineshaft. If our independence is under attack, everybody’s is under attack.”

Watch this carefully. My guess is that, as with Article 23, the free speech asphyxiators in Beijing will have to relent; they can only go so far so fast in their attempt to bring the feisty, freedom-loving HKers to heel. But don’t expect them to stop trying.

Via CDT.

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