Looks like it’s all over for RTHK’s current affairs debate program

RTHK has suspended its 41-year-old public forum program City Forum, sources have said.

Once one of RTHK’s longest-running programs, it was proposed by then-director of broadcasting Cheung Man-yee in 1980.

It mostly takes place at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on Sundays and sees hosts, guests and audience members debate over current affairs.

It was set to resume this month after releasing its latest episode on July 18, but was replaced by mainland war drama Decisive Battle.

Programs adviser David Ho Chung-yan refused to comment on the program’s suspension.

Ho added that RTHK’s program arrangement and staff deployment are the public broadcaster’s internal editorial matters.

He sidestepped the question if RTHK was going to suspend all political programs, but he said the broadcaster should produce more sports programs due to greater public attention.

“RTHK’s charter also says that the broadcaster should promote exercise among citizens,” Ho said.

The station echoed his comments, adding it would air programs of a similar genre for 36 hours on different platforms.

“RTHK will continue to produce programs in accordance with the charter of RTHK,” it said in a statement.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which governs RTHK, said “programming decisions are matters for RTHK to decide.”

The broadcaster’s Program Staff Union demanded RTHK explain if it had suspended or axed City Forum and that as a public broadcaster it should immediately explain any changes in its broadcast arrangement to the public in detail.

City Forum features political analysis, commentary and opinion exchange.

“Similar programs are scarce in Hong Kong If the suspension is real, the union thinks it is a great pity,” it said.

The union also reminded that the suspension would prevent RTHK from abiding by its charter – that it should “provide an open platform for the free exchange of views without fear or favor.”

Former City Forum producer Janet Mak Lai-ching said the program allowed the public to voice its opinions on site, adding its suspension would be highly regrettable.

“Such programs are needed regardless of the era,” she said.

Mak said City Forum drew inspiration from Hyde Park in London, which saw visitors express opinions on Sundays.

Chinese University’s journalism and communication lecturer Grace Leung Lai-kuen said with the suspension the city’s public broadcast scene had been “redefined.”

Leung said even if City Forum’s broadcast was resumed, the program may not be chaired by hosts and guests of diverse views.

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