Over a 77-year span, Hong Kong public radio has dished out a blend of credible news and cultural programming in three languages, served as a link between expatriates and the Hong Kong street, and has gained increasing editorial autonomy and respect in China's most sophisticated city.According to one RTHK staffer who also heads the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club press freedom committee, RTHK is something of an island of free expression in China. Francis Moriarty told the Monitor: "'If our independence is harmed, it affects the overall climate of freedom here. If RTHK is doing hard-hitting stories, others have to work hard, too. In a Hong Kong context, we are the canary in the mineshaft. If our independence is under attack, everybody's is under attack.'" According to the Monitor, RTHK is "being audited for the third time in five years, making it one of the most scrutinized agencies in Hong Kong." With all the other recent news about the government cracking down on Chinese citizens' access to critical media outlets, this is one more signal that the press in China isn't becoming any more free.
Yet that is exactly what bothers influential pro-Beijing forces who wish media to more fully trumpet government policies. Many of them see Radio Television Hong Kong, or "RTHK" as it is popularly known, as an irritant at best and a damaging critic at worst - allowing a broad range of opinion, including mild satire and programs that may challenge official proposals, all at taxpayer expense.
The basic issue: Will RTHK be cut, restricted, or turned into a cheerleader for government policies? Or will it evolve into a subsidized but separate identity, similar to the BBC or Channel 4 in London?