RTHK the loser for its role in music awards

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am

The 33rd Top 10 Chinese Gold Songs Awards, held last week at the Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin, instead of the popular Hong Kong Coliseum venue, was poorly attended. RTHK, as the organiser of the annual music event, should have finally learned its lesson that a public broadcaster should never dabble in show business and commercial ventures.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has in the past criticised RTHK for carrying live broadcasts of horse racing and organising Chinese pop song awards. Tsang was right because, as a public service broadcaster, the station should not have assumed the role of a commercial entity.

RTHK has stopped broadcasting horse racing, but its management still insists that hosting the pop song awards can help support and develop creativity in the local music industry. The station has been proved wrong as its music venture has come to a bitter end.

The controversy involving TVB and four major record labels last year over royalty fees has dramatically changed the local music industry landscape.

It has led to TVB boycotting singers of the four record companies and banning their appearances on its channels. The broadcaster then joined hands with Neway Karaoke Box to blacklist all songs produced by these companies.

It has even tried to replace the existing singers with a new generation of pop stars by hosting the singing competition The Voice.

In retaliation, the four record labels have boycotted all music events and awards organised by the station and have teamed up with Red MR - a new karaoke chain that is poised to break the Neway monopoly with its super gadgets.

This all-out war between TVB and the record companies has split the local music scene into two major camps.

The war has also spilled over and affected those on the sidelines. RTHK is one of the biggest casualties.

Its 33rd Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Awards suffered from poor attendance mainly because TVB refused to broadcast the show and a number of record companies, such as East Asia Record and Emperor Entertainment, banned their artists from attending.

It turned out to be a vicious circle; because cash-strapped RTHK was unable to get sponsorship from record companies, it was then forced to move the music award ceremony from the highly popular Hong Kong Coliseum to the Science Park, which is not only less prestigious but also totally unsuitable for a large-scale music event.

The radio station took the show to ATV and ended up having to utilise a lot of resources - including its airtime - to promote the award ceremony because ATV has a smaller viewer audience than TVB. It was a waste of public resources because, in the end, the one that benefited most was ATV, which received a lot of free publicity.

RTHK, as a public broadcaster, has a responsibility to promote programmes that have public interest, as well as provide minority interest programmes.

Getting involved in these commercial ventures will not help it earn public approval or appreciation.

In fact, it is more likely to damage its credibility. It's an open secret that the outcomes of most of these awards are 'arranged' and prizes are 'divided' to give face to record companies. So, does RTHK really want to risk its reputation by getting involved in such activities?

It is not the way public money should be spent and it's certainly not the way a public broadcaster should operate. Like the Chinese saying goes, it's time to rein in the horse at the edge of the cliff before it is too late.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk