Journalists sound alarm bells over new guidelines for Hong Kong broadcasting – Radio Free Asia

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) criticized the editorial guidelines issued for the government broadcaster RTHK, as the government prepares to assume greater editorial control over “sensitive” content.

In an editorial guidance document handed out to staff on Sept. 29, RTHK said its producers and reporters must defend China’s national interests and avoid “glorifying” or describing “criminal” activities that could incite others to act. do the same.

In an apparent reference to reporting on protests similar to the 2019 anti-extradition movement, the guidelines say the station should avoid portraying the actions of “criminals or suspects” as “glorious and heroic acts.”

The HKJA said it was not clear what kind of treatment would constitute a “glorifying” crime and was targeting a new “kick-back” process outlined in the document which actively encourages journalists to seek permission from their journalists. editors and their directors when they report on “” the topics.

The Hong Kong government and ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) media have repeatedly called the 2019 civil disobedience protests and actions “riots,” with protest-era slogans decreed as ” secessionists “and a threat to China’s national security.

The CCP’s imposition of a draconian national security law in Hong Kong from July 1, 2020 criminalizes speech deemed to “incite hatred” against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, and ushered in a crackdown on the government. citywide campaign against all forms of public dissent, peaceful protest, and political opposition, with dozens of former opposition MPs charged with “subversion” under the law for participating in a primary democratic.

The HKJA said media organizations rely on a frank exchange of views between journalists and television crews and their editors, as the former are closer to the action.

“Anyone with some media experience should be able to understand that it is often counterproductive to issue one-way, top-down instructions… because it turns news agencies into production lines to produce scripts,” HKJA said in a statement. in response to the new guidelines.

“The internal communications of media organizations focus more on discussions than on orders,” he said. “The HKJA is concerned that the RTHK leadership is mistakenly thinking that by issuing guidelines on content production, supplemented by a ‘referral’ mechanism, communication problems can be resolved or programs can be guaranteed error-free “, did he declare.

“The HKJA sincerely hopes that the leadership of the RTHK [will] work sincerely and respectfully with their employees, who have professional journalism experience, to maintain the quality of the programs, ”he said.

As part of a government-imposed restructuring in March 2021, an editorial board was empowered to oversee all program content and issue top-down directives to journalists regarding coverage.

The guidelines encourage producers to “submit program plans to the board for review at the early stages of planning, allowing it to be more proactive in guiding the production process.”

“Individual production units should proactively use the ‘bottom-up’ system to consult with RTHK management on important and contentious issues,” the guidelines say.

Failure to strictly adhere to the guidelines may result in disciplinary action.

“Building national identity”

Under the new guidelines, RTHK is expected to build a “national identity” through its content and “take into consideration that Hong Kong is part of [China]. “

It is also prohibited to refer to democratic Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP or part of the People’s Republic of China, as a country or a country-like entity, in accordance with Beijing’s land claim on the island.

The station is also to help the government promote and communicate on the National Security Law.

“All program creators must be vigilant as to the portrayal, depiction or treatment of any act or activity which may constitute or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offense endangering national security”, state the guidelines, warning producers against content that may be viewed. encourage, incite, promote, glorify, approve or sympathize with acts endangering national security.

The warnings would likely mean that if street protests and police violence were to occur in Hong Kong, they could not be covered from the front line by talks with protesters, purely from the government’s perspective.

“Media coverage in the run-up to a protest or public order event requires careful handling so that we are not seen as promoting,” the guidelines warn. “Flag crews should also pay attention to police instructions and stay clear of the center of a clash.”

Broadcasting director’s advisor Kitty Choi said the guidelines are not trying to catch people.

“They tell them what guidelines to follow and what mistakes to avoid,” Choi said, adding that most of the text in the document has not changed since the last edition.

But HKJA chairman Ronson Chan said whoever wrote the new guidelines likely had no journalistic experience.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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