New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip has questioned whether public broadcaster RTHK should keep its news department.
On Monday, the legislature’s Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting discussed opening a new permanent role for RTHK to steer and supervise matters relating to its governance, strategic planning, resource deployment and the development of the new Broadcasting House.
At the panel, Ip said she believed RTHK, as a government department, should be doing what the private market and companies cannot do.
“I doubt whether RTHK needs to do news, because so many radio stations are doing that. Maybe the English channel [should be kept], maybe you should hire people with better English?” she said.
She said RTHK spends over HK$1 billion each year and the new position must be cost-effective.
“I listen to classical music on RTHK – I believe this is necessary, because there is no profit [in it] at all. If the government does not do this, then no-one will listen to classical music,” she said.
Council Front lawmaker Eddie Chu said he disagreed with Ip, saying that public broadcasters are important internationally.
“[RTHK] is editorially independent and it is a role model for news in the community,” he said.
He said many reporters in private institutions leave after two to three years, but RTHK provided a stable environment to train journalists: “[It] should not be reduced in size, and should be expanded.”
Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing said he was proud of the performance of RTHK News, and the channel will keep on improving.
The RTHK Programme Staff Union said in a statement that it was astonished by Ip’s remarks.
“The union believes that as a public broadcaster, the role of the news department is to ensure the public’s right to know,” it said. “RTHK News has been adhering to the principle of objective and neutral reporting, to provide free public broadcasting without political and commercial consideration.”
The union said it was confusing that, although the legislative panel was about a new position and the proposed new building, the discussion was shifted towards whether RTHK should do news.
“It makes us question the motives behind it,” it said.
According to a 2016 study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, RTHK is the city’s most trusted broadcaster.