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RTHK loses fight for independence in Hong Kong

(IFJ/IFEX) - Hong Kong, September 23, 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses regret at a decision by Hong Kong's Commerce and Economics Development Bureau against reshaping Hong Kong's public broadcaster, Radio and Television Hong Kong (RTHK), as an independent media outlet.

The bureau announced on September 22 that RTHK would remain in its current structure as a government department. The decision follows more than two decades of campaigning by RTHK and the public for the broadcaster's independence.

The bureau's announcement said the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Donald Tsang, would be responsible for appointing a new board to provide editorial policy advice to RTHK. It said the board would not intervene in RTHK's day-to-day operations.

New plans for an RTHK-run television channel and a channel for the Central Government Broadcasting in mainland China were also made known in the announcement.

However, members of RTHK's staff raised concerns about the influence of the new advisory board over the broadcaster's content and editorial policy.

"I think the public will question its credibility and neutrality," RTHK staff union chairwoman Janet Mak said.

"As the influence of heavy censorship and regulation from the mainland creeps further into Hong Kong, it is crucial that Hong Kong maintains a voice and a media that upholds press freedom and the information needs of its people without restriction," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"The maintenance of public service journalism in Hong Kong relies upon public media's independence from political agendas of the Hong Kong administration and the mainland's Central Propaganda Department."

The IFJ calls on the Commerce and Economics Development Bureau to reconsider its decision in favour of encouraging a more open and democratic space for independent journalism in Hong Kong.

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