Freedom of expression NGO PEN Hong Kong has expressed its support for a petition urging public broadcaster RTHK not to cancel its 24-hour BBC World Service relay.
Earlier this month, it was announced that, from September 4, the BBC’s global news service will be replaced with the state-run Mandarin-language China National Radio Hong Kong Edition. However, eight hours of the World Service will still be relayed live between 11pm and 7am each day on Radio 4. RTHK said that the change was because its Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) services were set to end.
In a statement released on Monday, PEN Hong Kong said that it is “deeply troubled” by the decision. It urged Hongkongers to sign a petition calling upon RTHK to provide the Chinese channel with an additional AM radio wavelength to broadcast on, while keeping the BBC World Service on AM 675.
The group noted that the BBC is independent despite being publicly funded, whilst Chinese National Radio is directly controlled by the Chinese government. It also expressed concern over President Xi Jinping’s assertion that media outlets are “surnamed Party,” meaning that they serve the Communist Party.
“This is not the type of news that the only public broadcaster in Hong Kong should be transmitting to its listeners,” PEN Hong Kong said.
The NGO stated that, seen in the wider context of the “deteriorating political environment” in Hong Kong, the decision “represents an attempt to deprive Hongkongers of objective news and programming in order to make the local media culture more closely resemble the one in the mainland, while giving a prestigious platform to Chinese state propaganda.”
“RTHK may choose to broadcast China National Radio, but that decision should not mean the termination of an independent and valued source of news.”
Rebutting claims by RTHK spokesman Amen Ng that the move would promote the culture exchange between Hong Kong and the mainland, the group said that it would, in fact, “impose on Hong Kong propaganda disguised as journalism and also further limit the number of independent news sources available in the city.”
The petition, which had accumulated almost 1,000 signatures on Monday, is organised by local campaigner Alex Hofford. The petition said it is not opposed to Chinese National Radio, but believes BBC should be kept.
“Hong Kong touts itself as an international city. Yet the removal of the BBC World Service from the airwaves makes the city feel more parochial and inward‐looking,” the petition said.
“I think it’s really sad that the BBC will no longer be broadcasting on AM radio in Hong Kong from September. I listen to it every day for its high quality news reporting and analysis,” Hofford told HKFP. He added that when the petition hits 1,000 signatures, he would like to speak to RTHK’s Director of Broadcasting, Leung Ka-wing, to learn more about the matter.