Outspoken Hong Kong journalist fired from public broadcaster on World Press Freedom Day

Published (HKT): 2021.05.03 21:13

The Hong Kong journalist at the center of a months-long row over editorial independence at the city’s public broadcaster has been fired on World Press Freedom Day.

The formal sacking by Radio Television Hong Kong of Nabela Qoser came as an annual poll of the city’s journalists saw the press freedom index hit a record low, with almost all those surveyed citing the controversy as a factor in the decline.

Qoser was told on Monday that she must leave RTHK before the end of May because her contract was not renewed, despite it having been extended on a temporary basis for 240 days.

The 34-year-old assistant program officer was best known for her hard-nosed questioning of the city’s officials, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, during the demonstrations that swept across the international financial hub in 2019. Her critics accused her of bias, which became a key government complaint against the broadcaster and led to major changes to management and editorial positions.

In one example, she confronted Lam in a 3 a.m. press conference after a mob attack at Yuen Long metro station on July 21, 2019. “You went out to talk to the citizens at 4 in the morning, but where were you last night?” she asked, telling the embattled leader to “answer like a human being.”

Qoser, an ethnic Pakistani born in Hong Kong who speaks fluent Cantonese, came to prominence on social media for her sharp questioning of officials following the July 22 early morning press briefing.

RTHK declined to comment on individual cases, a spokesperson said in response to Apple Daily’s request for comment on the dismissal. As a government department, the broadcaster handles employee appointments and arrangements in accordance with established mechanisms and procedures, the person said.

The government-funded broadcaster, meanwhile, was ensnared in another controversy on Monday as it began to delete programs that had been uploaded on its YouTube and Facebook channels for more than a year.

The announcement sparked an online drive to archive videos before they were permanently removed.

The new arrangement was just to align RTHK’s social media platforms with the practice on the official website, which only provides replays of the past 12 months, a spokesperson explained.

RTHK’s staff union said it found no reason justifying the sudden change in policy.

The one-year limit was due to the limited capacity of RTHK’s internal server, the union spokesperson said, adding that the archives on social media were “Hongkongers’ collective property.” The decision “greatly” undermined RTHK’s credibility, the union added.

At least seven episodes of the weekly documentary program “Hong Kong Connection” were pulled from RTHK’s archive on YouTube, including one dated April 27 this year that talked about police violence. Other episodes covered Hong Kong’s political upheaval in 2019 and the national security law Beijing foisted on Hong Kong last June.

Freelance RTHK producer Choy Yuk-ling was last month fined after being convicted of making false declarations to access a public vehicle license database as part of her investigation for an episode of “Hong Kong Connection.”

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