ATV - Asia Television Limited

Record fine for Jiang 'death' report

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am

ATV senior vice-president Kwong Hoi-ying repeatedly pressed the station's news department to run a report of former president Jiang Zemin's death that was later found to be erroneous, the Broadcasting Authority said yesterday.

It fined ATV a record HK$300,000 for not verifying the report and answering the watchdog's inquiries in an 'irresponsible manner'.

The finding could imply that ATV misled Legco at a panel hearing in September, during which the station's executive director James Shing Pan-yu told lawmakers Kwong was 'not the source' when asked about his involvement in the incident.

Some lawmakers immediately demanded the two be summoned to explain the inconsistency.

Announcing its penalty yesterday, the authority said complaints about ATV's false report and its untimely correction of factual errors were justified. It also said the station had 'adopted an irresponsible approach' in its response to inquiries about the report, for its inconsistent testimony throughout the investigation and for its refusal to disclose the procedures taken to verify its information.

It did not find any direct evidence showing that Wong Ching, the station's controversial major investor, was involved in the broadcast of the report. But another investigation into the role Wong played in the control and management of the station as an investor was under way. The findings of that investigation would be released soon, said the authority's chairman Ambrose Ho Pui-him.

ATV has been widely criticised for the report, which it broadcast on several news bulletins on July 6 and did not formally retract until the following afternoon. The authority said it had received 45 complaints.

In its report on the blunder, the authority said Kwong, who was in charge of the station's corporate development and external affairs, called vice-president (news and public affairs) Tammy Tam Wai-yi that evening, telling her he had received reliable information about Jiang's death and asked her to report it on the Home channel's 6pm news, which was then being broadcast.

Tam and her boss, senior vice-president Leung Ka-wing, tried unsuccessfully to verify the information and asked for more time but Kwong had insisted they broadcast the report, saying he and ATV would shoulder the responsibility.

The report was then broadcast at 6.36pm and repeated in later news programmes on Home and its English-language World channel.

On its midday news the next day, ATV quoted the mainland's Xinhua news agency describing the death report as 'pure rumours'. But ATV did not issue a formal retraction until four hours later, which the authority said was 'far from timely'.

It was widely speculated that Wong, a relative of Jiang, was behind the report, but Wong denied this, saying he knew of the report only from watching ATV news. Speaking in the Legco hearing in September, Shing said: 'All three of us [Wong, Shing and Kwong] were not the source ... As senior management, we also have never pressured the news teams to tell us the source.'

Legco's Information Technology and Broadcasting panel will meet on Monday to discuss the report. Shing, Kwong and Ho will be invited to attend. Lawmakers said they would table a motion to reprimand Shing and Kwong if they cannot explain the inconsistency between the station's testimony in Legco and the authority's report. Shing could face legal consequences if he is found to have deliberately given false evidence.

Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said Kwong had clearly interfered in the news team's work. ATV said it accepted the authority's verdict but had reservations about 'some items'.