'Manipulation' sinks person of year race

Top News | Erin Chan and Michael Shum 5 Jan 2021

RTHK's Person of the Year 2020 race was scrapped yesterday - when the winner should have been announced - due to "voting irregularities," the station's English-language channel Radio 3 said.

It follows a controversy over RTHK's own reporter Nabela Qoser, a nominee.

The nomination of Qoser - who has come under fire for her tough questioning of government officials amid the 2019 civil unrest - had drawn the attention of both the pro-establishment and the pro-democracy camps.

The pro-government camp criticized RTHK for allowing its own staff to be nominated while pan-democrats campaigned for Qoser.

The annual feature on the channel's current affairs program Backchat invites listeners to vote for the most significant person of year.

But on yesterday's program, host Hugh Chiverton said the 2020 race had been canceled due to irregularities.

"I am afraid it is not good in the sense that we have been monitoring the voting, and we have decided that the voting has unfortunately been irregular," Chiverton said.

"Looks like it has been manipulated and therefore instead of knocking certain people out or changing things around, we've decided to cancel the whole thing."

The Person of the Year site and a brief Facebook post by the program's team stated: "Unfortunately, because of some irregularities in the voting . . . RTHK considered it prudent to cancel it. Sorry . . ."

The head of RTHK's corporate communications and standards, Echo Wai Pui-man, said the decision was made after a discussion between management and the program's team members.

A source from RTHK suggested to The Standard that the election's cancellation had to do with online users who campaigned to vote for Qoser en masse.

"Our understanding is that RTHK's senior management decided to cancel the election based on alleged irregularities and unusually high participation from the community," the source said.

"Over the weekend, online users flocked to social media, encouraging people to vote for RTHK journalist Nabela Qoser. This might have been regarded as manipulative by the management, prompting them to stop the vote."

Some people took to social media, demanding an explanation.

Qoser has had her three-year probation period at RTHK extended for 120 days after she was probed by the public broadcaster last September over her conduct at press conferences.

She grabbed headlines in July 2019 for throwing rapid-fire questions at top officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and then-police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung over the police response to the Yuen Long attack.

Last November, Qoser also repeatedly pressed police over their potential involvement in the death of protester Chow Tsz-lok, who plunged from a Tseung Kwan O car park in November 2019.

Other nominees were Lam, newspaper Apple Daily, investor activist David Webb and World War II veteran Peter Choi Bing-yui, who passed away last year.

Also nominated were health official Chuang Shuk-kwan, epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling, frontline health workers and "unknown cleaners."


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