ATV - Asia Television Limited

Ex-news chief admits error in trusting source

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am

A former news chief at Asia Television admitted yesterday that he wrongly trusted a source and allowed the airing of an erroneous report on the death of former president Jiang Zemin.

Speaking in public for the first time since quitting as ATV's senior vice-president of news and public affairs, Leung Ka-wing disclosed the background of the incorrect report to an investigating panel but remained tight-lipped on the source's identity.

'Even if you put a gun to my head, I will still not reveal the name,' he told a Legislative Council information technology and broadcasting panel looking into the editorial independence of ATV's news department.

Lawmakers were concerned about the newsroom's editorial autonomy and questioned if journalists were pressured by the senior management, such as the broadcaster's major investor, Wong Ching, to air the incorrect news.

'There is a huge difference between mistrusting a source and infringement of editorial independence,' Ronny Tong Ka-wah said, referring to Leung's statement two weeks ago that he tried his best but failed to stop the Jiang story from being broadcast.

Cheung Man-kwong said: 'It's not that you were unable to stop, it's that you had no intention of stopping the news from being aired,' adding that Leung misled people into thinking he was forced by the senior management to air the news.

Leung who joined ATV in 2007, replied: 'I can openly say that there is no evidence that the people [including Wong Ching] you [the legislators] have in mind have any relationship with the operation of ATV news. I take full responsibility for the incident. There was no interference in editorial decisions when I worked there.'

ATV executive director James Shing Pan-yu told lawmakers that the senior management never interfered in the newsroom.

'We always respect the freedom of the press and editorial independence,' Shing said. 'We will never affect its operation.

'All three of us [Wong, Shing and senior vice-president Kwong Hoi-ying] were not the source ... As senior management, we also have never pressured the news teams to tell us the source.

'Wong also had no relationship with the erroneous report.'

Shing then apologised to members of the public and Jiang as he rose from his seat and bowed.

Leung, a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience, detailed what happened on July 6 when the false report was broadcast. At the time, the condition of Jiang's health was a hot topic.

'One of my subordinates dashed into my office in the middle of the evening newscast and said a source had said that the incident [Jiang's death] was true,' he said.

Leung then communicated with the same source and was told to air the news immediately.

'I said no, because my colleagues had not been able to cross-check the accuracy and no colleague could find a second source to confirm the news.

'In the end, I made a mistake. I trusted the source and allowed the news to be aired. So I resigned.'

The government would not comment on the case as the investigation was continuing. It is also investigating the role played by Wong at ATV.

Professor Clement So York-kee, director of the Chinese University's School of Journalism and Communication, said it remained unclear why the flawed report was aired.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting demanded Leung clarify the whole incident since there was inconsistency between what he said yesterday and his earlier statement.