The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hong Kong’s latest star TV host? City leader Carrie Lam.

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HONG KONG — In a city known for producing action-packed martial arts movies, there’s a gripping new TV show on the block. The title promises to captivate viewers: “Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors.”

The star? Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, not as a guest but as the host. The show, which premiered Wednesday on public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, gives Lam a platform to promote electoral changes introduced by Beijing that further tilt the system against pro-democracy voices, add weight to industry-sector representatives and ensure only “patriots” loyal to the Communist Party can govern Hong Kong.

“I will invite guests from subsectors to discuss how the restructured subsectors can reach broad representation and balanced participation. Welcome to tune in,” Lam said in an announcement Monday on Facebook that drew a mix of bewilderment, support and concern.

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Almost a year after China imposed a security law that curtailed freedom of speech in Hong Kong, the public broadcaster has become a vital instrument of Beijing’s efforts to control the narrative. RTHK, long known for independent journalism, is adapting to a more compliant role — despite a witty Twitter account that sometimes mocks officials’ statements.

Since replacing its director recently with a career civil servant who had no media experience, RTHK has shifted toward content that supports the security law and promotes “national identity.” Patrick Li, the new chief, has axed shows deemed “biased.” An assistant director on Monday became the latest to resign. Meanwhile, the broadcaster refused to accept an award for a documentary about police failings part-produced by reporter Bao Choy, whom a judge deemed guilty of a crime last week for using a public database.

People in mainland China have long been accustomed to state propaganda broadcasts, but Hong Kong traditionally had a freewheeling media environment. That is changing; prominent publisher Jimmy Lai is in prison, and this week, for the first time since 1969, broadcaster TVB did not air the Oscars following the nomination of “Do Not Split,” a documentary about the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

Still, some in Hong Kong reacted with disbelief to news that Lam would have her own dedicated show.

“This surely cannot be true?” Peter Lewis, who hosts a radio program on RTHK focused on financial news, wrote on Twitter.

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“It seems funny, but then sad … that a publicly funded broadcaster has become like this,” said one RTHK worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions. The staffer queried whether RTHK’s director had reviewed “Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors” for balance.

A spokeswoman for RTHK said the show accorded with the broadcaster’s charter, which required it to contribute to the understanding of the nation. She did not answer a question about whether the program was vetted by the director. Lam’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In Wednesday night’s double-episode premiere, Lam sat in a chair as she discussed Beijing’s electoral overhaul with National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy Wong Yuk-shan and, afterward, Bunny Chan Chung-bun, another NPC deputy who chairs the pro-establishment Kowloon Federation of Associations. There was furious agreement that the electoral changes were good.

“There are 36 Hong Kong deputies elected to the National People’s Congress who can have a say on the highest-level affairs of the mainland. It is an honor to me,” said Wong, reflecting on his experience.

“Within one year, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee had four meetings about Hong Kong issues,” said Lam, stressing that Hong Kong’s constitutional order is inseparable from the mainland’s.

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Wednesday’s episodes, uploaded to RTHK’s official YouTube channel, scored only a few thousand views and mostly “thumbs-down” responses. One user surnamed Tse said he “unsubscribed and reported”; another, Denny Senna, wrote “thank you for your decades of hard work. Farewell RTHK!” Some left supportive comments on Lam’s Facebook page.

At the end of the show, which is only in Chinese, a note said it was “produced by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.”

In an online forum popular among younger Hong Kongers, many asked whether Lam had got a “part-time job.” One remarked that George Orwell’s “1984” had come true.

If you missed the show, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch it again. “Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors” will air four times a day, every day, and will be available online. It will run on RTHK through May 17.

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