Now TV removes report on Communist Party background of academic tipped for top HKU role

Published (HKT): 2020.10.25 20:40

The news chief of Now TV has admitted to taking down a report on the Communist Party background of a Chinese academic nominated to a leading position at the University of Hong Kong.

The news outlet on Friday broadcast a segment showing education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen expressing concerns about Tsinghua University academics Max Shen and Gong Peng. Ip said that appointing Shen, allegedly a Communist Party member, might “cast a shadow in terms of the university’s academic freedom and its development.”

Now TV news chief Bill Chan called the newsroom shortly after midnight on Saturday and told his staff to remove the report from the TV channel and mobile app, Apple Daily has learned.

Chan made a second call on Saturday morning to tell Now TV employees in charge of the app to remove a report about Ip asking HKU to clarify Shen’s Party membership.

Chan was on holiday over the weekend and has not explained his decision to the Now TV team.

He received multiple queries from his staff about the report’s removal, suggesting that the decision was made unilaterally, sources told Apple Daily.

In response to a phone inquiry from Citizen News, Chan said that the report was taken down because he found it to be “inappropriate,” but he hung up without elaborating. Apple Daily has also contacted Chan for comment.

Ip told Apple Daily that he found the deletion to be odd and urged Now TV to offer an explanation if they thought the report might affect the public’s perception of Shen’s appointment.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo described the move as “political self-censorship.” Chan should explain himself or else resign, she said.

“It is laughable and egregious that the operation of a television news channel depends on the whims of an individual,” Mo added.

Chan came out of retirement and assumed the role of news chief for Now TV in September. He  previously worked at the news departments of Asia Television Limited and Television Broadcasts Limited for over 30 years.

Shen is currently dean and Party representative of Tsinghua University’s Department of Industrial Engineering while Gong is dean of Tsinghua’s School of Science. Their appointments to HKU will be discussed by the school’s council on Tuesday. If approved, they will take up the posts of vice president of research and of academic development respectively in January.

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