RTHK accepted warning over Headliner, court told

Lawyers representing the Communications Authority said on Tuesday that a warning the body issued to RTHK over an episode of its now-suspended Headliner show did not undermine freedom of speech.

Senior counsel Abraham Chan told the High Court during a judicial review hearing over the ruling that it was plainly insulting to the police when the show’s host, dressed in a police uniform, emerged from a rubbish bin.

Chan said as the government station was only told to observe more closely the Code of Practice on Television Programme Standards, future productions would not be hindered.

He noted that the station had accepted the ruling, and said the applicants of the judicial review – RTHK’s Programme Staff Union and the Hong Kong Journalists Association – did not represent the station.

He said while the authority did not take issue with criticism against the police force, the media must not exceed reasonable boundaries when exercising their freedom of expression.

He said RTHK should have considered the social sentiment when producing the Headliner episode that was aired in early 2020, when the relationship between the police and the public was frayed and further social unrest might be possible.

In response, senior counsel Johannes Chan, representing the union and association, said there was no evidence showing that the authority had taken into account the 2019 protests in its ruling, adding that the episode in question was only about the pandemic.

He also rejected suggestions that he had played up the show’s satirical nature to dismiss the need for factually correct content, saying satire cannot be produced without a certain degree of exaggeration or distortion.

Justice Anderson Chow reserved judgement to a later date.