'Bad taste' poll costs station $140,000

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2006, 12:00am

Fine is highest imposed on broadcaster, which airs public apology over survey

Commercial Radio was hit with a $140,000 penalty - the biggest imposed on a broadcaster - and forced to air a public apology yesterday for its hotly criticised poll on indecently assaulting a celebrity.

The station said it 'sincerely accepted' the ruling of the Broadcasting Authority, which was hailed by a media expert as 'serious, comprehensive and groundbreaking'.

The penalty followed 191 complaints about the poll, mounted by the popular programme So Fab, in which respondents were invited to choose the female artist they would most like to indecently assault.

The authority said the case was serious because the programme hosts, Sammy Leung Chi-kin and Kitty Yuen Siu-yee - who have been suspended for two months - were experienced and the poll was 'not a matter of inadvertence'. It directed the station to submit a report in three months on measures taken to improve monitoring system.

General manager Rita Chan Ching-han, who read the apology on the station's two FM Chinese-language channels and its AM English channel during its midday prime time slot, said the management accepted responsibility.

She said the station had set up two monitoring committees for the Chinese-language channels and would adopt much tighter monitoring. She said the two-month suspension of Leung and Yuen was enough. She did not say if other staff would be penalised.

The fine for breaching the Radio Code of Practice on Programme Standards was set because the station had been fined for a breach before. It had to pay $10,000 in 1992.

The authority said the 'light-hearted manner' of the show 'gave listeners the wrong impression that indecent assault was trivial and could be made fun of'. The poll was in 'bad taste' because 'indecent assault involved sexual violence and was a criminal offence', it said.

Amy Wong, the station's director of external affairs, said it was hoped in-house training, conducted by veteran broadcaster Dorothy Chen Ka-hei, would begin in July.

Chinese University journalism professor and former authority member Kenneth Leung Wai-yin said the ruling was 'ground-breaking' and one of the authority's 'most serious and comprehensive'. It sent a strong message to the public that they 'can say no to the media' and he hoped it would help raise the quality of the media. It also taught the media a lesson that they had to be 'accountable and responsible to the public'.

Commercial Radio said So Fab was one of its most popular programmes, with its hosts' fun style attracting young listeners, but it declined to reveal ratings.

Loyal fans have vowed to support the hosts. One Yahoo website forum has more than 2,000 posts from fans urging others to search the site with 'Support Sammy (and) Siu-yee' so the slogan will appear on the Yahoo homepage. Some urged people to write to the authority in support of the pair.