RTHK should put Hong Kong's interests above any profit motive

Albert Cheng questions RTHK's move to block transmission of its news show by his private station, even though it will widen audience

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 3:47am

RTHK, which is funded by public money, recently filed an application for an injunction against D100, a multimedia radio station owned and operated by me. The intended injunction is meant to stop the station from transmitting one of RTHK's daily news magazine programmes, even when we have agreed to pay for it.

The argument presented is that D100 has not been authorised to transmit the programme.

As taxpayers, Hongkongers have the right and are duty-bound to monitor the operation of RTHK

But the real concern is that RTHK considers D100 to be a competitor and so it would be deemed unfair competition if D100 was allowed to use an RTHK programme to compete with the public broadcaster, hence putting it at a disadvantage.

As a founder of D100, I must declare my interest. We pay to transmit RTHK newscasts, and are in negotiation to pay for the transmission of the morning news programme. We are puzzled by the station management's sudden change of heart and its injunction.

In fact, as a public service broadcaster, RTHK should act in the public interest. In this case, the station seems to be working against this fundamental principle. Above all, it needs to promote its programmes and let as many people as possible enjoy them.

The crux of the matter is not whether D100 should continue to transmit RTHK programmes; it's a matter of principle regarding how a public service broadcaster should be run.

The case provides a timely opportunity for us to right the wrong by allowing the courts to hand down a fair and just ruling. It will clarify, once and for all, the role and responsibilities of RTHK as a public broadcaster. This will, hopefully, set the record straight.

It's a well-known fact that, over the years, I have been extremely critical of the role of RTHK as a public broadcaster. I've always said that the station doesn't know exactly what it should be doing as a public broadcaster. The station, under the control of its bureaucratic senior management, has become an empire with ambiguous lines of responsibility.

It's no secret that the station has been plagued by some serious problems, including mismanagement. Its annual budget, of about HK$700 million, is enormous. And with seven radio channels, it takes up a substantial portion of the public airwaves.

As a public broadcaster, its target audience is the entire local population. Hence it should, as a priority, produce the kind of programmes that commercial counterparts don't because they're not profitable. In this way, it can better serve the public, especially the underprivileged and minorities, thus giving them a voice.

From a public relations and promotion point of view, it is, of course, better for the station to reach out to as many listeners as possible.

That's why it allows overseas radio stations to broadcast its news programmes in the first place. Therefore, it doesn't make sense for it to now seek to ban D100 from transmitting such shows.

To be honest, it would be ridiculous for RTHK to view D100 as a competitor. As a public entity, RTHK's role is to serve the general public and in no way should it view its commercial counterparts as competitors, because a public station is non-profit-making.

D100 is a global multimedia station and its target audience is the global Chinese community. Being such an international broadcasting entity, it will be able to broaden the audience base for RTHK.

Furthermore, it is not a mainstream broadcaster. Its operational model is similar to that of an internet radio. D100 is not and will never be a competitor of RTHK. Hence it is an exaggeration to use this as a reason in the injunction application.

Besides, public information requires different treatment. Take Britain as an example. In order to promote the flow and transparency of public information, the government has relaxed the rules on the use of government information and data, under the Open Government Licence.

As an international city on a par with London and New York, why is Hong Kong not on an equal footing in terms of copyright law and the treatment of public information?

If D100 wins the case, it will benefit other radio stations, allowing them to transmit RTHK news programmes, maybe even for free. In the end, it will help diversify the development of audio broadcasting and benefit the long-term development of the public broadcasting and information sector.

It will also clarify the copyright issue that concerns government material.

As taxpayers, Hongkongers have the right and are duty-bound to monitor the operation of RTHK.

This court case is not just about the interests of one radio station; it concerns long-term public interest, and also civic rights and duty.

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


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