Hong Kong Police Chief Says RTHK Show Could Make Public 'Lose Confidence in Police'


2020-03-04
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china-rthk2-0330420.gif The offices of Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK are shown in a file photo.
Reuters

Hong Kong's police chief has written to the city's public service broadcaster RTHK to complain about a satirical TV show, which it says will ruin the image of the city's police force.

A Feb. 14 sketch in the TV comedy show "Headliner" had joked that officers are hoarding protective gear during the coronavirus outbreak, Police Commissioner Chris Tang wrote in an open letter to RTHK's Director of Broadcasting.

And a Feb. 28 episode had joked about the force ruling recent deaths in the city as "not suspicious," in an apparent side-swipe at the police response to the deaths of a number of young people during the pro-democracy and anti-extradition protest movement that has gripped the city since last June.

According to Tang, satirical shows should still be based on facts.

"As a public broadcaster, I believe that the programmes produced by your station should reflect the facts and let the general public understand what is happening in society, rather than mislead the audience," Tang's letter said.

He hit out at the show for failing to "condemn rioters" during several months of protests and clashes last year.

"'Headliner' will cause viewers to have a wrong impression and misunderstanding of the police force," he said.

"If the public loses confidence in the police force, criminals will have a chance to take advantage of it, and Hong Kong's law and order will be difficult to maintain. This is definitely of major public interest."

Excessive use of force

Frontline protesters, eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights groups have repeatedly said that the majority of the violence seen during the protests had originated with the Hong Kong police, who have been widely criticized for the excessive use of tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray, as well as both non-lethal and live ammunition weapons on unarmed protesters.

Amnesty International said in its 2019 annual report that Hong Kong protesters are 'bloodied but not broken' in the wake of abusive policing tactics for which the authorities have yet to be held accountable.

Eight victims of the Yuen Long mob attacks on train passengers on June 21, 2019 last year sued Tang over the force's failure to respond to more than 24,000 emergency calls during the attack, when a white-shirted mob ran amok, bludgeoning passengers for 39 minutes before police arrived on the scene, leaving 45 people in hospital.

A number of the attackers were later found to have ties to Hong Kong's criminal "triad" organizations, and video at the time showed police officers chatting to some mob members.

Tang said the police will also be making a complaint against RTHK to the Communications Authority.

An RTHK spokeswoman said "Headliner" reflects different views in society and it is "quite unlikely for any reasonable persons" to conclude that the comedy sketches are serious hard news.

Report indefinitely postponed

Hong Kong's police supervisory body in January quashed a long-awaited report into the handling of the pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests, as the city's leader said there had been no police brutality in recent months.

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC)--which has been criticized by its own experts, rights groups and protesters as a toothless body that relies on the police investigating themselves--indefinitely postponed the release of its report amid growing international criticism of police violence against protesters.

The announcement came a month after an international panel of law enforcement experts stepped down, saying they no longer wished to be associated with the probe.

The panel had been chaired by Sir Dennis O'Connor, who was tasked by the British government to write a report on the police after the 2011 London riots and included current or former police watchdog chiefs from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and a British specialist on crowd behavior.

'Against the public interest'

Bruce Lui, journalism professor at Hong Kong's Baptist University, said it was significant that the city's media regulator had also on Wednesday removed a requirement for free-to-air commercial broadcasters including TVB to air RTHK shows including "Headliner," following a request from the network.

"The Communications Authority made its decision from the perspective of TVB," Lui said. "This is definitely against the public interest."

He said TVB and other stations rebroadcast RTHK shows because they use the public terrestrial broadcasting spectrum to make a profit.

"They should carry some public responsibility," Lui said. "It is in the public interest for them to rebroadcast RTHK shows, because public broadcasters have the capacity to make programming of a level that the commercial broadcasters can't achieve."

"Public broadcasters can make more in-depth shows, or those that deal with more politically sensitive topics," he said.

TVB was previously required to carry 3.5 hours of RTHK programmes on its Chinese channels per week, and ViuTV was obliged to air 2.5 hours of programmes "in the public interest" provided by the government department.

The requirement for free-to-air broadcasters to show RTHK programmes was first introduced in 1990.

But the Communications Authority said that RTHK now has three digital channels, a website, and mobile apps to reach its audience, which didn't exist when the conditions were laid down.

"After considering the free TV licensee's request and the views of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Communications Authority concurs that there is no justifiable case to continue to require commercial broadcasters to broadcast RTHK programmes," it said in a statement.

Humanitarian crisis

Around one third of adults in Hong Kong have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the protest movement escalated last June, according to a mental health survey published in The Lancet this month, which said the incidence of psychiatric problems was similar to those usually associated with war zones or terrorist attacks.

Rights groups warned in November that Hong Kong was in a state of humanitarian crisis after police fired more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas in recent months, with around 1,000 of those fired into the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) campus during a single day in November.

A January opinion poll by Reuters found that most of Hong Kong's residents supported the five demands of the protest movement, with more than one third of respondents saying they had attended a protest.

Only 30 percent said they were opposed, compared with 59 percent of those polled who supported the movement.

Plans by Lam to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China sparked mass street protests, soon followed by widespread public anger at police use of force against peaceful demonstrators and demands for fully democratic elections.

Lam has since formally withdrawn the hated amendments to the city's extradition laws, but has stopped short of meeting protesters' demands for an amnesty for arrestees, an independent public inquiry into police violence and abuse of power, an end to the description of protesters as "rioters," and fully democratic elections.

Reported by Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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