Thirty dismissed in Metro News revamp
By BELINDA WALLIS
HONGKONG'S first 24-hour news service was axed yesterday with 30 journalists losing their jobs, prompting concern at a dramatic decline in English language broadcasting in the territory.
It was immediately replaced by a revamped channel, Metro News Plus, which airs just five hours of news a day at peak listening times in the morning, at noon and at 5 pm, along with hourly news updates.
Music will make up the bulk of the programming, but 15 of the Metro News staff have been kept on to service the new station.
Among those to lose their jobs were veteran journalist Nick Griffin, and former television personalities Ian Whiteley, Nick Mould and Shelley Fines.
A fuller News Plus service is still being formulated and will be launched officially before June, according to general manager Mr Craig Quick.
''We are trying to design a new, successful format and I'm not going to say a word on what this is,'' he said.
Failure to attract advertising, and million-dollar deals for a number of expatriate management and newsroom staff are seen as Metro's biggest problems.
Metro News was the first of Metro Broadcast's three stations to go on air on July 22, 1991.
Cantonese music station Hit Radio and bilingual music channel FM Select followed over the next three months, backed by a consortium led by Mr Li Ka-shing.
But while 1992 figures show Hongkong's two commercial radio stations took roughly five per cent or $566 million of the $9.2 billion advertising pie, Metro is estimated by industry sources to have secured only $116 million of that.
Metro newsroom staff were told of their dismissals during a 1 pm meeting at the Spotlight Recreation Club in Kowloon. The redundancies were effective immediately, with each staff member given 45 days' pay.
Mr Quick described yesterday's layoffs as: ''An audience-driven decision, which trails an advertising-driven decision immediately in its wake.
''Personally I am close to these people and regret that the change in format has displaced them. It was a very difficult decision, but the station has better prospects of a bigger audience this way,'' Mr Quick added.
The Recreation and Culture Branch (RCB) had already scrutinised the licensing conditions and codes of practice of Metro Broadcast and Commercial Radio, which recently switched its English station to an all-musicformat.
While no breaches were found, RCB deputy secretary Mrs Rachel Cartland said it would be ''watching the situation carefully'' and monitoring public reaction.
Commenting on the dramatic decline in English language broadcasting, the Director of Broadcasting, Ms Cheung Man-yee, said: ''I would hate to think that Hongkong as an international city should have its English output threatened by purely commercial interests.
''If there is not enough support from the Government and through legislation, we are going to lose minority services altogether,'' said Ms Cheung, the head of RTHK.