Justice comes late to The Pulse’s WHO interview

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By Chris Yeung —

It is a finding being too little too late for the much-troubled editorial team of RTHK’s programme, The Pulse, and the broadcaster as a whole.

More than 15 months after a programme that carried an interview with a World Health Organisation official about Taiwan’s participation was broadcast, the Communications Authority has ruled complaints against the programme lack sufficient evidence. No further action, it said, will be taken against the public broadcaster.

The damage is done, however. Yvonne Tong, a reporter who conducted the interview with a WHO official carried in the programme had earlier resigned. She faced an avalanche of criticism and smearing in the pro-Beijing media after the programme was put on air.

Worse, the controversy over the episode has caused a chilling effect on RTHK and other media outlets, worsening the problem of self-censorship. Taiwan’s membership at WHO and the like have become a “red-line” topic.

At the centre of the row was an episode aired in March last year. Tong interviewed Bruce Aylward, the Assistant Director General of the WHO. During the interview conducted via Skype, Tong asked whether WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership.

Tong, the programme and RTHK were heavily criticised by the pro-Beijing media and political circle.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, whose portfolio includes RTHK, said the “expression” in the interview with an WHO official violated the “one China” principle and the RTHK Charter. Yau has said the then Director of Broadcasting, Leung Ka-wing, should be held responsible for that.

The Authority has received more than 210 complaints.


In a statement issued on Monday, the Authority said they received a host of complaints against the episode, including bias in its presentation of remarks by  WHO’s secretary-general, distortion of Aylward’s remarks and being unfair to him. Tong’s question to Aylward about Taiwan’s WHO membership was criticised as unfair, inappropriate and being “subversive”.

The Authority said in a report the interview with Mr Aylward had not been distorted, nor there was evidence that shows he had been unfairly treated.

The Authority revealed that RTHK has admitted in its latest submission the form of expression and way of handling the section regarding WHO membership may have “made people feel the ‘one China’ principle has been wrongly understood and even violated.”  The Authority added their finding has not been affected as those matters are not within their scope of jurisdictions.

Given the fact that the Authority has found nothing wrong with the programme, the RTHK management’s admission of lack of clarity in their report is ridiculous and disingenuous.

One does not need to be a professional journalist to be able to come to a clear view that a question about whether WHO should reconsider Taiwan’s membership is a fair question.

Mr Aylward has a list of possible answers. Yes. No. Maybe. No comment. Or even “that’s a wrong question.”

That Edward Yau drew a conclusion before the government-appointed regulatory body conducts its investigation shows clearly political correctness has superseded objective analysis in a case that involves the Taiwan issue.

Underlying Yau’s response is that even a straightforward question about Taiwan’s membership in WHO should have never been asked in the first place because Taiwan is not a sovereign nation and, therefore, not eligible to become a WHO. To him and the patriots, even asking such a question is not in line with the “one-China” principle.

The Authority’s conclusion is a slap on the face of Edward Yau for his dismal failure to take an objective look at the attacks on The Pulse programme.

And in making a submission at the late stage of the Authority’s investigation, the RTHK management appears to have tried to save face for Yau, their boss, by admitting what it called their own inadequacies in explaining the issue clearly.

Though belated, the Authority’s ruling has done justice to The Pulse team. But there is little to cheer about.

Looking back, the controversy over the programme has become the curtain-raiser of a RTHK-bashing campaign mounted by the pro-Beijing camp with the helping hands of government officials.

Following the shakeup of RTHK’s top management, the room for editorial freedom and independent journalism is further shrinking. The verdict of the Authority on the complaints against The Pulse won’t help reverse the decline of RTHK.

This article was published on Apple Daily’s English website on June 9.

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