Four months after she was arrested and charged in relation to a 2019 report on police misconduct, RTHK producer Choy Luk-ling has gone on trial for accessing car ownership details on official databases. Her trial is yet another blow for media freedom in Hong Kong.

Choy Luk-ling, also known as Bao Choy, appeared in court on Wednesday where she pleaded not guilty to two counts of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance. It is alleged that she made false statements when searching for car licence plate information online, RTHK reported. The hearing lasted several hours and was adjourned until 22 April when a verdict is expected.

For her report, Choy accessed official databases to determine car ownership details for vehicles linked to violent attacks on pro-democracy protestors in July 2019. Despite several emergency calls being made, the attacks received no response from the police. The prosecution contends that Choy’s registration checks were not traffic or transport-related but were instead reporting related and that she “knowingly made a false statement” by saying the checks fell under a valid reason. Choy’s lawyer maintained that the checks were indeed traffic or transport-related since Choy had sought to determine the ownership of the vehicles. Hong Kong journalists have long accessed the database as part of their work, but authorities have now said such searches will no longer be allowed.

Following news of Choy’s arrest, then Chief of RTHK, Leung Ka-wing, said staff were “afraid” and “worried” but he reaffirmed the broadcaster’s commitment to the principle of editorial independence. However, Choy has been suspended since her arrest last November. In an RTHK report, Choy was reported as saying she was disappointed with RTHK’s decision and felt she was being punished for doing her job.

Choy’s trial is happening against the backdrop of broader concerns for RTHK. Since PMA’s last report in February, new developments have highlighted the deepening media freedom troubles facing the public broadcaster.

Read more: Dark month at RTHK suggests a grim future for the public broadcaster

On 1 March, Patrick Li stepped into his role as RTHK’s Director of Broadcasting. The new head – a former civil servant with no broadcasting experience – took over shortly after three senior officials resigned amid programming criticisms from the government and pro-Beijing supporters. Li said upon assuming his role that he would “safeguard the editorial independence of RTHK as specified in the charter” though he emphasised RTHK’s editorial responsibilities and said that there is no “freedom without restraint”. Since his arrival, RTHK has abruptly cancelled two programmes, including one related to Beijing’s electoral overhaul, sparking further concerns regarding the broadcaster’s deteriorating editorial independence.

The challenges facing RTHK reflect broader concerns for media freedom in Hong Kong. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China noted in a recent report the increasingly hostile environment for foreign media in China – hostility and repression that is extending to Hong Kong as Beijing asserts greater influence and control.

Header Image: RTHK’s Antenna together with Hong Kong’s night scene. Credit: Claude Tam/iStock