One of the last vestiges of Hong Kong's colonial past is going silent. The territory's public broadcaster will pull the plug on a 24-hour stream of the BBC World Service, replacing it with state-controlled media from China.
A spokesperson for Radio Television Hong Kong, known as RTHK, says the decision to end the radio broadcasts, which have aired since 1978, was not influenced by politics. The BBC said in a statement that it is "always disappointed when a service our listeners are used to changes," adding that it is "doing everything we can to ensure we continue to reach our audiences."
The move has prompted anger from some listeners in Hong Kong, who launched an online petition calling for the service to be restored. "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," the petition reads.
In addition to dropping the BBC, the China National News that replaces it will be broadcast in Mandarin, China's official language, instead of the Cantonese dialect more commonly spoken in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Sunday that the move to drop the World Service relay was part of a larger shakeup of RTHK's digital radio operation, which had "failed to attract a significant audience."
It says that the service would still be available online, via satellite and "on RTHK's analogue channel."
The SCMP acknowledged that the switch has "raised concern in some circles" and that "its replacement with bulletins in [Mandarin] from state-run China National News, is [cited by critics] as evidence of declining press freedom in Hong Kong."
In 1997, Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in a historic transfer of sovereignty in which Beijing pledged to grant the territory a special status, preserving for it "a high degree of autonomy."
However, in recent years, Beijing has increasingly taken a heavier hand in Hong Kong affairs, cracking down on dissent and refusing to allow free elections for the territory's leader, which was a stipulation of the so-called Hong Kong Basic Law negotiated as part of the handover.