Critics urge tougher stance on ATV
Legislators and journalists yesterday called on the Broadcasting Authority to suspend ATV's licence if senior executives are found interfering in the station's news department again.
The demand came after ATV was fined HK$300,000 for broadcasting an erroneous report about the death of former president Jiang Zemin in July after, according to the authority, senior vice-president Kwong Hoi-ying repeatedly pressed to air the item.
The chairwoman of the Journalists Association, Mak Yin-ting, said the authority should make it a condition that management stay out of editorial decisions when the station renews its licence in four years, as well as respect the news department's code of conduct when cross-checking facts.
Mak was also concerned that the fine was not a big enough deterrent. 'It's not a small fine. But if the station counts the HK$300,000 as their running costs to interfere in the news team, there's little the authority can do,' she said.
'So there must be a mechanism to ensure the management respects the codes of the news department.'
Democrat Lee Wing-tat, a member of the Legislative Council's information technology and broadcasting panel, said the watchdog should issue a letter to warn ATV it would lose its licence if the authority's code was seriously breached again.
'HK$300,000 is nothing to ATV,' he said. 'If we set it as a licensing condition, we would have to wait for four more years. The authority has the power to take back the licence, so why shouldn't they do it?'
But the panel's chairman Wong Yuk-man, of People Power, worried that press freedom would further shrink if there was an extra code in licensing conditions.
'It would give the government excuses in the future to introduce more codes,' he said.
The watchdog said it had no power to monitor the station's internal operations, so it would not comment directly on whether there had been interference with the news team.
Also in the authority's report yesterday, financial programme Wealth Blog received a serious warning of its advertising elements, and advertising programme Corporate Excellence got a warning over unclear labelling.
The watchdog said that although they were not news programmes and could receive sponsorships, Wealth Blog had indirectly advertised a listed company from its detailed and frequent coverage of it, and Corporate Excellence, a commercial packaged as a programme, was not clearly labelled as an advertisement.
Complaints about the two programmes emerged after the incorrect report of Jiang's death, which added to some concern about the station's editorial independence.
Advertising elements in Wealth Blog was reportedly one reason behind the resignation of ATV news chief Leung Ka-wing and his deputy Tammy Tam Wai-yee in September, in addition to the erroneous death report.