Media independence at risk: HK lawmaker


Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 4

Hong Kong risks losing its status as a free and open society if the government undermines the independence of the territory's public broadcasting service following a review of its operations, a senior lawmaker said yesterday.

Emily Lau (劉慧卿) said any attack on Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) by a government commission set up last week would add to concerns about the independence of the media in the former British colony since sovereignty reverted to China in 1997.

"I have no problem with proposals to make the RTHK management more accountable and transparent, but in the current climate of self-censorship and tip-toe journalism, any attempt to further undermine RTHK's editorial independence and autonomy would send a very negative signal to the community," Lau warned in an open letter read out on RTHK's radio service.

The seven-man commission is charged with looking into ways to improve the management, content and philosophy behind the broadcaster, a department of the China-backed government.

But Lau and other liberals in this southern Chinese city fear it has been created to clip the wings of RTHK, which has been critical of China and Hong Kong's post-colonial governments.

"In the past few years, RTHK has come under heavy political pressure for producing programs which criticized the government," Lau said.

"To many people who understand the operation of the government, when the authorities announce a review on a certain subject, chances are they already have the conclusions in their mind," she said.

Hong Kong prides itself on its free and open media. However, despite China's assurances it will protect the territory's open society, watchdogs say some media firms practice self-censorship of news items critical of China.

The government dismissed Lau's comments, with a spokesman accusing her of coining "the usual conspiracy theory" to discredit the review panel.

"The government intends to establish a clear policy framework that sets out the vision and plans for the future development of public service broadcasting in Hong Kong," he said.