Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) deleted an article from its website without explanation on the ongoing scandal surrounding Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Wednesday, who accused a high-ranking Communist Party official of rape.
RTHK was once one of the city’s most prestigious media outlets, home to news coverage as well as a variety of different programs. It is a taxpayer-funded organization.
As part of China’s illegal erasure of Hong Kong’s democratic political framework following the 2019 anti-communist protests, Beijing-controlled officials have cracked down on programming and news content at RTHK that it interprets as challenging the authoritarian regime and replaced much of it with favorable propaganda.
Peng Shuai’s disappearance has largely failed to appear in Chinese media or on regime-controlled social media outlets, though regime propagandists have driven the narrative in the West by publishing bizarre photos and videos allegedly showing Peng happy and safe in Beijing. The regime abruptly cut off at least one attempt to discuss the issue broadcast in China – CNN’s live feed in English – on Monday.
The tennis player disappeared from the public eye after publishing an explosive post on Twitter in early November accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her before coercing her into what she portrayed as a consensual extramarital affair later. Peng’s post revealed that she had lost her desire to live and compared the self-destructive nature of her public accusations to throwing an egg at a rock.
The Weibo post disappeared, as did her account, and she herself has not been proven to have surfaced in public all month. In response to international outrage led by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and supported by nearly every single major tennis player on both the men’s and women’s tours, Chinese state media published an alleged “email” from Peng claiming to be fine. Media outlets tied to the Communist Party later posted undated videos allegedly proving her safety.
RTHK dared to publish a report on the scandal on November 18, according to the HKFP, which posted a screencap of the now-empty URL.
“The headline of the RTHK original report cited ‘western media’ as saying they had not been able to get in touch with Peng since early this month,” HKFP noted. “The report also said Chinese media had published an email allegedly sent by Peng and reporting that she was resting at home, whose authenticity was questioned by the WTA chief.”
RTHK refused to explain the decision to delete the post in response to an inquiry from the HKFP.
The Hong Kong broadcaster was once one of Hong Kong’s most thorough sources of news and permitted free political entertainment content. Like many other free journalistic outlets, it fell victim to China’s “national security” law. The communist National People’s Congress (NPC), which has no legal jurisdiction over Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, passed a law in May 2020 that allowed the prosecution of anyone accused of acts of “terrorism,” “secession,” soliciting “foreign interference,” and “subversion of state power.” Hong Kong authorities have made clear since that they will target nearly any act interpreted as unapproving of Beijing with the law.
The first major sign that the Chinese Communist Party was interested in censoring RTHK appeared in February 2020, when the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong government objected to a comedy sketch on the longstanding program Headliner that mocked Hong Kong’s police force for brutality against peaceful protesters. Violent attacks on peaceful protesters became commonplace during the 2019 protests and a source of international human rights activist outrage, but the Hong Kong government did nothing to act in defense of its citizens. Instead, it demanded that comedians mocking the police on Headliner – and all programming on the entire network – be subject to a “full review” to prevent “negligence and errors.”
RTHK published an apology in May and indefinitely suspended the show, which began to air on the network in 1989.
The broadcaster has since deleted the apology from its website.
That same year, RTHK reprimanded one of its journalists for asking a World Health Organization (W.H.O.) about its systematic exclusion of the nation of Taiwan from its activities, particularly in light of its strong record on fighting Chinese coronavirus at the time (April 2020). The official, assistant director Bruce Aylward, did not answer the question, claiming he did not hear it, which resulted in an embarrassing moment for the W.H.O.
RTHK banned staffers from referring to Taiwan accurately as a country or referring to its government in July. China claims that Taiwan is a province under Beijing despite no historical precedent for the claim and no real-world power over the island nation.
To replace the content it has banned, RTHK has begun producing pro-Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government propaganda. In May 2021, a year after de facto canceling Headliners, RTHK announced a program titled Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors hosted by Hong Kong Chief Executive and unpopular Beijing crony Carrie Lam.
Anonymous RTHK staffers complained at the time that Lam’s show was “propaganda.”