Officials target Hong Kong public radio
Pro-Beijing forces say that the station, which patterns itself after the BBC, is not respectful enough.
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Over the years, RTHK has been a familiar public voice. It also has had a cultural mission. It helped incubate bubbly Canto-pop music and spawn a generation of film directors. Its soap operas, like "Under Lion Rock," which depicted average Hong Kong families struggling in the 1970s, helped forge a strong city identity. It isn't uncommon on Sunday night to hear programs, like RTHK opera, playing in the red-and-white taxis that wind through the lighted hills of the city whose name means "fragrant harbor."Skip to next paragraph
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The station has eight channels that pump out Cantonese, English, and Mandarin programming. There is bilingual instruction, a channel for senior citizens, traffic, news, and a BBC rebroadcast - the latter having a sizeable audience in mainland China.
In the 1970s, RTHK started patterning itself after the BBC, which carries interview shows like "Hardtalk," and includes experts with wide- ranging views. Yet this has earned it the ire of powerful local factions that complain the station's proper job is to promote, not criticize, government initiatives. In 1998, a year after the British handover, Cheung Man-yee, RTHK's director for 20 years, was sent to a posh but nonetheless out-of-the-way post in Tokyo after saying publicly she feared that RTHK would be turned into a "mouthpiece" for the government.
Yet RTHK did carve out latitude to monitor the previous administration of Tung Chee-hwa, particularly during the SARS epidemic and the civil rights crisis created by the promotion of an "antisubversion" law called Article 23. Like many Hong Kong media, RTHK reporters ask tough questions in press conferences of the current Donald Tsang administration.
Some local studies show a BBC-style independence is what Hong Kong people desire. In a Chinese University study of 1,044 respondents, with a 3 percent margin of error, 80 percent felt "RTHK should bear the responsibility of monitoring the government and criticizing its policies."
Radio is popular in the city of 7 million, and throaty salty talk show hosts are prized and influential. In fact, three hosts at commercial stations had become so popular prior to the 2004 elections that they all resigned or fled the airwaves, citing threats and intimidation.
Albert Cheng, host of "Teacup in a Storm," said he left after his family was intimidated by a mainland Chinese official he knew who called him late one evening.
Under the terms of the British handover, Hong Kong was to be given a guarantee of noninterference in its affairs. Yet Beijing has taken a free hand in interpreting the Basic Law governing Hong Kong - something often pointed out by the broad range of civic, religious, and artistic groups in Hong Kong, of which RTHK is seen an integral part.
Last week, for example, one of the 1997 Basic Law drafters in China, Xu Chongde, told a legal seminar that "one man, one vote" would be possible in Hong Kong only when Hong Kong could assure Beijing that only "patriots would be elected." He also said that democracy was a flawed system since Hitler and Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian were both elected to high office.