More ATV staff may quit as morale slumps
Martin Wong and Vivienne Chow
More ATV journalists may quit after the resignation of news chief Leung Ka-wing on Monday over the erroneous reporting of former president Jiang Zemin's 'death'.
A person close to the ATV newsroom said the impending departures include Yonden Lhatoo, editor-in-chief of the broadcaster's English News and Public Affairs.
Vice-president Tammy Tam also resigned after Leung quit.
Lhatoo, who joined ATV in 1997, yesterday confirmed he has resigned.
'Yes, I'm leaving. I think it's time to go,' he said. However, he refused to say whether his resignation was related to the unfortunate report.
Lhatoo will remain in his position until December when a replacement is found.
ATV's handling of its misinformed report on Jiang has sparked controversy and hit staff morale hard. The person close to the ATV newsroom - which allegedly lacks adequate funding and is understaffed - described it as 'gloomy and depressing'.
'It is dreadful. We have lost two good journalists who are respected, who actually run the newsroom,' the person said.
Contrary to media reports, however, ATV journalists generally enjoyed full editorial autonomy, the person said, except for two occasions in which news staff believed senior management had infringed on their editorial independence. 'We were very upset about the Jiang Zemin incident and the management's decision to broadcast sponsored content by a listed company in a financial news programme,' the person said.
Yesterday, lawmakers - including Democrats Wong Yuk-man and Emily Lau Wai-hing - demanded the Broadcasting Authority investigate the incident and urged ATV to explain whether its senior management had infringed on editorial autonomy.
To Yiu-ming, assistant professor of journalism at Baptist University, said there was no law governing editorial autonomy.
'The code of practice under the Broadcasting Authority only requires broadcasters to ensure that news is presented with accuracy and due impartiality. There is no guideline or law stating that senior management cannot interfere with editorial decisions,' To said.
He agreed that the authority should look into the Jiang Zemin incident as the code of practice requires broadcasters to make every effort to ensure news accuracy.
'The incident clearly violated the code, and ATV is obliged to explain the whole event. Leung's comment that he could not stop this piece of news from being broadcast clearly means it was the work of senior management,' To said.
ATV board member Rebecca Huang Bao-huei said she and shareholder Tsai Eng-meng tried to persuade Leung to stay after he submitted his resignation in July.
However, minority shareholders could do little about the incident, Huang said. 'We knew he was instructed by somebody,' Huang said of the mistaken broadcasting of Jiang's demise. After a prolonged war of words between shareholders, Wong Ben-koon emerged as the majority shareholder with a 52.4 per cent stake in ATV last year.
Last night, the authority said it had received 41 complaints against ATV for its false reporting of Jiang's death. 'The authority is investigating the role of [investor] Wong Ching in ATV's management, including his role in the news report in question,' an authority spokeswoman said.
She said the authority was closely monitoring ATV to ensure it had complied fully with all requirements under the Broadcasting Ordinance and its broadcasting licence. The authority said it would not interfere in the daily operation of a broadcaster - including the relationship between its management and news department and editorial appointments.