The Hong Kong Government's Office of Trade and Economic Development released a statement on April 2, 2020, accusing the city's public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), of violating the “One China” policy.
The statement, signed by the office's minister, Edward Yau, pointed to RTHK's news program, “The Pulse,” in which journalist Yvonne Tong put pressure on the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), Bruce Aylward. , to comment on Taiwan's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, in addition to the country's membership status in WHO.
Taiwan attended WHO meetings as an unofficial member until 2013, when Beijing used diplomatic pressure to marginalize the country. After Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the Progressive Democratic Party for Taiwan independence, won the presidential election, Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to pursue a policy of total isolation.
WHO's shame went viral
The episode in question, which aired on March 28, focused on global pandemic countermeasures. When Aylward was questioned in the segment of his interview whether the WHO would reconsider the status of Taiwan's membership, Aylward said he was unable to hear the question and ended the call abruptly. The journalist called back and asked about her perspective regarding Taiwan's performance in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but Aylward said she had already given her point of view about China and ended the interview.
Although Taiwan alerted the WHO to the potential for human-to-human transmission as late as December 2019, the isolation policy excluded the country from the emergency meeting on Jan. 22 to address the coronavirus outbreak. However, Taiwan has done better than many countries to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Against this scenario, Aylward's refusal to answer the question was interpreted as evidence of WHO's pro-China political stance. The video went viral on social media and many accuse the WHO of conspiring with China to minimize the severity of the pandemic:
Bruce Aylward @QUIEN did an interview with HK's @rthk_news When asked about #Taiwan I've pretended not to hear the question. The journalist asked again & he even hung up! Woo can't believe how corrupted @QUIEN is. pic.twitter.com/uyBytfO3LP
– Studio Incendo (@studioincendo) March 28, 2020
Bruce Aylward of WHO participated in an interview with RTHK Hong Kong. When asked about Taiwan, he pretended not to hear the question. The journalist asked again, and he even hung up! Wow, I can't believe how corrupt WHO is.
Beijing was outraged at the event. The next day, the website of China Central Television (CCTV by name in English) published a comment accusing the journalist of having “bad intention”.
Shoot the messenger
The Hong Kong Government echoed Beijing's position and accused “The Pulse” of violating the “One China” policy and the “objective and mission of RTHK as a public service broadcaster, as specified in the statutes”.
The RTHK spokeswoman rebuked the government's criticism, noting that the episode was about responses to the global pandemic and that the Taiwan segment was simply part of the program. In addition, he noted that the journalist referred to Taiwan not as a “country” but as a “place”, therefore, she did not violate the “One country, two systems” principle or the RTHK statutes.
The public broadcaster's Program Workers Union classified the government statement as a movement to shoot the courier and urged the public to defend the autonomy of its press room.
Fermi Wong, a member of the RTHK program advisory group, believed that the government statement resulted from pressure from Beijing:
When you look at the interview done by the Pulse reporter, it is about the coronavirus issue, it is about health. I don't really understand why when a reporter is asking something relating to health, she or he has to remember there is ‘One Country, Two Systems’… in line with the government or China. I believe the government statement may come after some kind of pressure from the Foreign Ministry or the Chinese Communist Party, I don't know. But I think the statement is the biggest nonsense.
When you see the interview with the journalist from The Pulse, it's about the coronavirus problem, about health. I don't really understand why when a journalist asks something related to health, they must remember that there is “One country, two systems” … in line with the Government or China. I think the government statement may come after some pressure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Communist Party of China, I do not know. But I think the statement is the biggest stupidity.
In 2004, after Beijing failed to pass a set of national security laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law, it began to tighten its control over the Hong Kong media. Since then, RTHK has been under pressure for not aligning with government policy. In recent years, the station's several popular public affairs programs – including its satirical news commentary show “Headliner” and its weekly public forum “City Forum” – have been under enormous pressure to self-censor.
Direct pressure from the Hong Kong police force
The latest wave of pressure emerged in August 2019. With months of protests against China's extradition, RTHK journalists investigated the failure of the Hong Kong police force to protect citizens from a mob attack in Yuen Long. In August, pro-Beijing protesters staged several protests outside RTHK headquarters and accused the public station of “bias.”
Police Commissioner Chris Tang also filed a complaint with the Communications Authority against RTHK's “Headliner” program, accusing him of undermining police work and eroding authorities.
In March 2020, following a request by the city's main free commercial broadcaster, TVB, the Communications Authority attempted to curb RTHK's influence by lifting TVB's license requirements, which previously required a mandatory weekly broadcast of three and a half hours of RTHK programs.
Meanwhile, Eugene Chan, chairman of the RTHK board of directors, proposed establishing a three-person task force to review complaints about RTHK programs – as the broadcaster's Program Workers Union strongly criticized as interference. direct in the daily operations of the station.
Beijing's plan to transform the station into a spokesperson is reflected in the slogan “RTHK should represent the voice of the Government” as proposed by pro-Beijing protesters outside RTHK headquarters. Now the pressure from the Hong Kong government is mounting.