Record number of contenders forces rethink on TV debate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2008, 12:00am

The record number of candidates contesting some geographical constituencies has posed a serious challenge to organisers of televised election debates.

Broadcasters say they will have to extend air time to accommodate more than a dozen candidates in some constituencies to comply with the equal-time-for-all rule.

Broadcast schedules are also being moved from the usual prime-time hours to late evening in some cases due to clashes with Olympics programming.

Televised election debates will begin this weekend and last until the end of the month.

The organisers include Now TV, Cable TV and RTHK.

Cable TV News assistant controller Ellen Wu said her channel's programmes, which usually lasted up to 11/2 hours, might vary for different constituencies.

'There are 14 tickets contesting New Territories West but only six in Kowloon East,' Ms Wu said. 'With the same broadcasting time and equal time rule, a session for the NT West forum has to be cut.'

A session allowing the public to question candidates would be withdrawn in the two constituencies with more than 10 candidates - Kowloon West and New Territories West.

In 2004, New Territories West, with 12 candidates scrambling for eight seats, was the only constituency with more than 10 tickets.

This year, Kowloon East, with six candidates seeking four seats, is the only constituency with less than 10 candidates.

RTHK executive producer Canace Lam Kit-yin said her channel's televised election forums, which usually lasted an hour, would be extended for 30 minutes in constituencies with a large number of tickets.

But this caused another headache. 'It will not be possible to broadcast some extended forums during peak hours and they will be delayed until after 10pm to avoid clashes with Olympics programmes,' she said.

Ms Lam said RTHK's election forums on the free TV channels had in the past been broadcast at 7pm but, to make way for Olympics programmes this year, they would begin from 10.30pm on Saturday.

Now TV's live broadcasts of election forums relating to Kowloon West and New Territories West will also be extended for 30 minutes to comply with the equal-time rule.

Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said that with so many candidates, the equal-time rule could be applied to leading candidates only, as practised overseas.

He suggested a stricter threshold for candidates by increasing the required number of nominations, to better control the number of candidates competing in an election.