The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has warned that the quality of Radio Television Hong Kong’s (RTHK) English language television service has been put at risk by the decision to not renew the contract of its senior executive producer, despite overwhelming support by staff.
The move has angered staff and the IFJ has warned the move may also go against existing Hong Kong regulations and has called for his immediate reinstatement.
On July 30, RTHK’s English television service programme staff and the RTHK Programme Staff Union issued a rare joint statement against the decision by the Director of Broadcasting, Roy Tang Yun-Kwong, to not renew the contract of expatriate producer, Gary Pollard.
In June 2013, RTHK, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, tightened its employment rules so that contract staff reaching retirement age needed approval from the Director of Broadcasting to continue in their roles. The new rules deviate from Civil Service Bureau regulations, under which there is no compulsory retirement age for non-civil service contract employees.
RTHK advertised Pollard’s position twice in April 2014, but no suitable candidate was found. Even so, RTHK insisted that he leave by the end of August, provoking anger among staff.
Staff members have expressed concerns that RTHK will let go all veteran and outspoken journalists under these new rules.
A staff member told the IFJ: “We have repeatedly voiced our concerns to management, saying we lack manpower and there is nobody internally who can perform multiple functions in the way that Pollard does. However, management simply ignored our views. The most enraging thing is that we demanded twice to speak with the Director of Broadcasting, Roy Tang, but he refused.”
RTHK has fought for years to be independent. In the past decade, the government has repeatedly appointed civil servants to management positions. Tang Yun-Kwong, a career administrative officer, was appointed in 2011 as Director of Broadcasting and Editor-in-Chief. Since then, several incidents have aroused public concern that freedom of expression is shrinking.
The IFJ Asia-Pacific said: “RTHK is a public broadcaster, so the public has a legitimate expectation that a high quality of service will be maintained. The Director of Broadcasting has clearly put the English service in danger and ignored staff opinions. The case also highlights the danger in appointing a civil servant with no background in journalism to such a position.”
The IFJ welcomed the solidarity of the English television service staff and the RTHK Programme Staff Union on the matter. It also urges the Civil Service Bureau to investigate the case, in particular if RTHK has violated Bureau regulations with the introduction of the new rules.”