The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) warned on Monday that an ongoing investigation into a hard-hitting journalist with Hong Kong’s government broadcaster RTHK will have a “chilling effect” on the city’s news organisation.
The RTHK Programme Staff Union said on Sunday it had received news that the station management will reopen a probe into the work performance of TV presenter Nabela Qoser.
Qoser, who questioned Chief Executive Carrie Lam in the wake of a July 31 attack by armed thugs on train passengers in Yuen Long prompted Lam and other top officials to walk out of a news conference.
Qoser, a Hong Kong-born journalist of Pakistani descent, asked Lam where she was on the night of the attack, which went on for nearly 40 minutes before police showed up at the scene, demanding: “How could you sleep last night?”
The union described the broadcaster’s decisions to reopen the investigation into complaints against Qoser and extend her probationary period by 120 days as “political persecution,” RTHK reported.
“The Hong Kong Journalists Association is concerned about [the reopening of the investigation], and worries that journalists who raise pointed questions will be subjected to suppression in their workplaces,” the HKJA said in a statement on its Facebook page.
“[This] will eventually create a chilling effect,” it said.
RTHK staffs, as civil servants, are required to submit to at least performance appraisals over a three-year probationary period, but the process doesn’t include public complaints.
Qoser’s probationary period had been due to end, but has been extended pending the renewed investigation, the staff union said on its Facebook page.
“The sudden re-opening of the investigation and the extension of the probationary period are not only unfair to Qoser; they also undermine the entire civil service appraisal system,” the HKJA said.
“If journalists are subjected to criticism, suppression, or political censorship just for doing their jobs … they will no longer be able to speak up against injustice,” the group said.
RTHK union members staged a protest outside the station’s headquarters on Monday as a new advisory board convened in the wake of complaints of anti-government bias against the organization met.
Union president Chiu Sin-yan said the reinvestigation of Qoser seemed to be politically motivated.
“We tend to believe that this is a form of political suppression,” Chiu said. “This investigation was previously closed … so if it can be reopened indefinitely, we think the intention behind this is self-evident.”
As China imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong on June 30, Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, and Lam both hit out at some media organizations for “smearing” the authorities in their criticisms of government and police.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting wrote to RTHK on Monday saying that there was no new information that would justify a reinvestigation of Qoser’s performance.
The reinvestigation into Qoser’s work comes after broadcasting regulator the Communications Authority issued a warning to RTHK following public complaints that its TV show Pentaprism hadn’t upheld a wide enough range of views, namely those in support of police and government.
Qoser, a Hong Kong Baptist University graduate, has previously worked at TVB and Ming Pao, and has been subjected to online racist abuse, according to Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission.
RTHK is a fully funded department of the Hong Kong government, but has been criticised by pro-China politicians and officials for alleged anti-government bias. (Source: RFA)