Hong Kong leadership favourite Carrie Lam backs public broadcaster, but union not impressed

Chief executive front runner disappoints staff by failing to offer firm promises on expansion while taking shot at ‘outdated’ programme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 11:41pm

A pledge by chief executive race front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to help the city’s public broadcaster expand its reach without a firm promise on securing extra resources or clearing political obstacles has left the RTHK union more miffed than mollified.

Her qualified offer of help came with a dash of criticism of the station, which disappointed programming staff, RTHK insiders said after she spoke at a Journalists’ Association forum attended by the three leadership candidates.

Lam did not endear herself to RTHK staffers by calling one programme outdated and praising state-owned CCTV programmes carried by the broadcaster.

While she vowed to embrace media diversity if elected on March 26 and promised to see whether “policy support is lacking or that resources are mismatched” at RTHK, her comments attracted criticism.

The public broadcaster has faced constant manpower and resource shortages, due in part to strong opposition from pro-establishment lawmakers who accused the station of producing anti-government content. Its plan for a new broadcasting house came to a halt after lawmakers refused to approve funding in 2014.

But as she vowed to expand RTHK, Lam said she could not imagine that those lawmakers, most of whom were her supporters, would all back her plan

“It is never my opinion that the broadcasting policies in this administration are good policies,” Lam said.

Citing the success of the MTR Corporation’s projects overseas, Lam said RTHK too had “potential to reach abroad”.

She then said one of the station’s new channels relied too often on still photos, making it appear “substandard” and “outdated”.

Instead, she suggested the station loop funny remarks from officials, such as her often-cited comment that “an official has more guts when she has no more desire”. She made the remark in 2015 when defending her decision to order government officials not to be pressured to drink possibly lead-contaminated water during the city’s tainted water scare.

Hitting back, Gladys Chiu Sin-yan, chairwoman of RTHK’s programme staff union, said: “We wish to emphasise that we are not the government’s mouthpiece and should not be instructed to loop what officials say.

“We appreciate her high hopes for RTHK, but we also need the next chief executive to help secure funding for our development into a professional TV station.”

On Lam’s claim that she had little knowledge of the problems facing RTHK, the union said in a statement it was “deeply disappointed” that she was blaming others when “she ought to be clear about all policy areas” as a candidate.

Lam also took a dig at election rival John Tsang Chun-wah for avoiding media controversies in the past, including the rejection of HKTV’s application for a free-to-air television licence in 2013, even though he supervised the bureau that dealt with licensing.

Tsang, Lam and the third candidate, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, pledged to uphold press freedom, introduce an access to information law and archive law, and allow online media to access government media events.