It's no fun being a dominant broadcaster in Hong Kong these days. What started as a protest against the government's failure to license businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay's free-TV station has expanded into a boycott against TVB. A variety show last night, intended to be a celebration of the station's 46th anniversary, became a protest target. Campaigners asked the 800 households installed with meters to monitor ratings to turn off their TVs.
Meanwhile, the spotlight falls on Commercial Radio chief Stephen Chan Chi-wan for reassigning its star radio host Li Wei-ling, a well-known government critic, to a less prominent time slot. Lee has accused her bosses of "black box operations", that is being unaccountable.
Private companies can't be held to the same standard of openness as the government. The problem is that the line separating the public and private sectors is not always clear, something which has led to accusations of government-business collusion. This is especially a problem in the broadcasting industry, as it is tightly regulated.
Until recently, the government has restricted the number of players as well as the broadcasting spectrums available to each licensed player, whether in TV or radio, leading to monopolistic dominance. The industry's reach and influence over public opinion makes activists alert to potential threats to freedom of speech and of the press.
The government has become so toxic that any link with it, however tenuous, can be politicised, as TVB and Commercial Radio have found. Conspiracy theories being widely circulated have it that TVB successfully pressured the government not to give a licence to Wong; and that Commercial Radio has been told by officials to dump Lee as part of a deal to renew its licence, which will expire in 2016.
It's difficult to prove or disprove such theories, but they do show the levels of public dissatisfaction and distrust.
TVB would have more credibility if it didn't produce so many low-budget, poor-quality shows - Chan was for many years TVB's general manager - just because it has a captive audience. To restore trust, both radio and TV stations could start with better quality programmes.