RTHK petitioned to reinstate BBC daytime AM broadcasts

Monday 11 September, 2017


RTHK has come under fire from some Hongkongers for dropping the 24 hour BBC World Service Radio relay on its local AM 675 transmitter, and a petition has been launched to get the feed back on air.

The move coincides with the closing of the Chinese region’s digital radio channels. RTHK was the sole DAB broadcaster after three private companies returned their licences reportedly due to the poor advertiser response to the platform. This has reduced the number of radio channels to pre digital levels – 7 FM and 6 AM.

As a consequence, RTHK says it needs to broadcast some of the Chinese radio channels that were previously on digital on the AM band. The BBC has been reduced by 16 hours and moved to Radio 4’s mid dawn slot between 11pm and 7am.

RTHK’s Damon Pang reported news of the decision last month:

“RTHK explained that the change is necessary because its Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) services is ending next month – after the government decided in March to halt all such services in the city.

“Various programmes that had been exclusively broadcast on DAB, including China National Radio and programmes for the underprivileged and ethnic minorities, need to be shifted to the broadcaster’s radio channels.” Listen to the audio report here.

RTHK’s head of corporate communications Amen Ng, said the public broadcaster was "bound to make new programming arrangements after the government’s decision to terminate digital broadcasting services...” it was "necessary" to keep broadcasting China National Radio. "This channel is tailor made for RTHK... when we first introduced DAB, and it can enhance the cultural exchange between the mainland and Hong Kong."

The AM frequency 675 has always had a weak signal in Hong Kong and often suffered interference from mainland stations.

Special editions of China Radio International in Chinese and English have been relayed in Hong Kong since before the handover in 1997, first on AM 1044 Metro Plus, then on digital radio.

Critics of the move say it is a sign that the mainland Chinese government is exerting increasing control on the media in Hong Kong.

BBC News, reporting the decision, said:

“The Chinese station broadcasts mostly in Mandarin, not Cantonese which is used in Hong Kong. The BBC service has been broadcast continually on Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) since 1978.

“Critics say the change is evidence of the gradual encroachment of mainland Chinese state media into Hong Kong. This, they say, is leading to increased censorship in the Chinese territory that was a British colony until 1997.”

A statement from BBC Corporate says it is "always disappointed when a service our listeners are used to changes," but that the World Service is "doing everything we can to ensure we continue to reach our audiences." It has published information about alternative methods for Hongkongers to find BBC services.

Explaining why they are protesting the decision, the petitioners say on their webpage:

“Hong Kong touts itself as an international city. Yet the removal of the BBC World Service from the airwaves makes the city feel more parochial and inward‐looking.

“To be clear, we are not against the service provided by China National News. We just don't want RTHK to broadcast China National News at the expense the BBC programming which many Hong Kong people rely on for news from far flung places.”

The petitioners, whose logo is an RTHK figure shown kicking out a BBC figure (above), want RTHK to provide a new frequency for China National News Hong Kong Edition so that the BBC World Service can keep being heard on AM 675.

Former Australian Broadcasting Corporation Director of International Relations, Dr Murray Green, now a media development and policy advisor, has told AsiaRadioToday: “In a nation that operates as 'one country two systems' it is understandable that Beijing would want a strong presence for China National Radio in Hong Kong. That it comes at the expense of the most excellent and unmatched BBC World Service is very regrettable. I hope there are other platforms for audiences and their access to the BBC in the region.”

An editorial by Alex Lo this week in the South China Morning Post says the anti-mainland hysteria on this issue “is getting ridiculous.”

“What’s more natural for a publicly funded station in Hong Kong to run – Putonghua programmes from a state-run radio service about the city and the mainland or the British public broadcaster?” he asks in his editorial.

“Mainlandisation? What about neocolonialism? By the way, more people (48 per cent) speak Putonghua in Hong Kong than English (46 per cent), according to census data… The CNR broadcasts will be value-added. Listen to them or not; they will just bring more variety. I know, we fear and hate everything about the mainland."

The petition so far has over 1000 signatures, and will be presented to RTHK Management when more signatories are gathered.

BBC World Service radio may benefit from the publicity as its radio app can be accessed wherever there’s a phone connection, a foot print that dwarfs traditional broadcasting that is greatly challenged by skyscrapers, mountains, and an extensive subterranean transport network.



Additional reporting from John Patkin in Hong Kong.



Hong Kong S.A.R., China
22° 20' 25.278" N, 114° 10' 51.8016" E
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