Photo/Illutration Pro-China supporters hold Chinese national flags outside the High Court in Hong Kong on Feb. 18. (AP Photo)

HONG KONG--A Hong Kong government review of public broadcaster RTHK found editorial management “deficiencies” and a lack of transparency in handling complaints, signaling a major overhaul of the revered institution and raising concerns over media freedoms.

Radio Television Hong Kong, founded in 1928 and sometimes compared to the British Broadcasting Corporation, is the only independent, publicly funded media outlet on Chinese soil. It is guaranteed editorial independence by its charter.

It angered the Hong Kong government, the police force, and Beijing with its coverage of anti-government protests that shook the city in 2019, including several investigations that led to widespread criticism of the authorities.

Last year, the Commerce Bureau announced an unprecedented, government-led review of RTHK’s governance and management--spanning its administration, financial control and manpower--to ensure it complied with its charter.

“There are deficiencies in (the) editorial management mechanism,” said the 154-page review released on Friday.

There were “no well-defined and properly documented editorial processes and decisions,” and no “clear allocation of roles and responsibilities among editorial staff,” it said. “Weak editorial accountability is observed.”

Earlier on Friday, the government appointed deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Li as Director of Broadcasting, effective March 1.

Pro-Beijing supporters regularly file complaints against RTHK and stage protests outside its headquarters, accusing it of anti-government bias.

Last week, RTHK said it was suspending the relay of BBC radio news programming after China barred the BBC World News service from its networks, in a decision which underlines how Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong extends to media.

When Beijing expelled about a dozen journalists working for U.S. news outlets last year, it also barred them from relocating to Hong Kong.

A sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 is seen by its critics as a blunt tool to stifle dissent and curb media freedom and other liberties. The legislation calls for tougher regulation of the media.

The government maintains rights and freedoms remain intact.

Media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, the founder of the popular Apple Daily tabloid, is the highest profile activist charged under the national security law for allegedly colluding with foreign forces.

Hong Kong fell to the 80th place in the Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom index in 2020, from 18th in 2002. China ranks 177th.