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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 4:44am
CommentInsight & Opinion

What price freedom of expression?

Robert Chua says the TV licence row shows that denigrating others through self-interest undermines the work of those taking tough decisions and abuses freedom of expression

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 10:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 5:15am

Let's not misuse our right to freedom of expression to protest against or attack others purely for self-interest; we need to think of the people's interest first. Clearly, the dispute between TVB and Next Media is not about "freedom of the press" or "freedom of expression". It is merely a company's decision against an unfriendly rival that is threatening its business. In this case, it was telling viewers to switch off their television sets in order to reduce a show's ratings without reasonable cause.

To campaign for a boycott of TVB's 46th anniversary gala show was clearly wrong. If the campaign had called for viewers to switch off if they witnessed a repeat of TVB's "gross", "degrading" and "tasteless" show the previous year, then it would have been a fair call.

But to call for a boycott to cut the stations ratings points cannot really be justified, especially as turning off the TV would also hurt other stations' viewing figures. Imagine a campaign on TV calling for people to stop reading newspapers. How would the print media react to that?

TV and newspapers are governed by different sets of rules. Even free-to-air TV and cable TV have different rules; the content of many programmes may be acceptable on cable, but is not allowed under free-to-air regulations. And, while the press can generally write what they like, a TV station cannot use its airtime to broadcast a programme defending itself.

There was widespread criticism of a recent programme produced by TVB about HKTV and the free-to-air TV licensing issue. But if the print media had produced a similar commentary, it would not have stirred up any significant complaints. Therefore, under such circumstances, the TVB decision to ban Next Media from its press conferences and events because of "biased reports" on the TV licence issue doesn't violate press freedom. What other choice does the broadcaster have?

As a Singaporean who has lived in Hong Kong for over 46 years, people often tell me Singapore is controlled by a dictator, Lee Kuan Yew. They claim it is a police state, that there is no freedom of expression, and that everything is controlled by the government. Yet, despite such negative views, Singapore has become one of the wealthiest nations in Asia governed, or should I say "managed", very well by its founding father. We must not forget that Singapore is a tiny island with no natural resources, only its people, to rely on. Nor does it have the support that Hong Kong enjoys from the mainland. Yet Singapore is very successful. Most people are behind the government, despite discontentment with some policies. This is understandable; you can't please everyone, all the time - not even in a family.

Public policy decisions sometimes require time to yield results. People should respect a government's decisions, as they would their parents' decisions, and not just challenge and oppose things for the sake of it. Just like any parent, even though they may sometimes be wrong, officials acted with the best intentions. Not all decisions are correct but, just as in business, ultimately someone has to step up. We need to trust our government to make a decision without resorting to daily protests, or to orchestrating public opinion.

If Singapore had been governed like Hong Kong, based on public opinion, would it be what it is today? The Singapore government has made some bad policy decisions among the many good ones, but they were made in good faith, with the belief that they were for the good of the people, for example, the policies to encourage an influx of foreign workers into Singapore. Similarly, the Hong Kong government acted in good faith with its policy to allow more mainland tourists into Hong Kong. Now that such policies have become an issue, should we blame the government for making the decision at a time when it believed it was badly needed? We need to trust the government to address such issues.

We need to give credit to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for implementing many policies, including the two-tin milk power limit and property cooling measures, as well as efforts to clean up the air, tackle poverty and more that have been forgotten. We should consider where Singapore would be today without the influx of foreign workers, and what state Hong Kong's economy would be in without more mainland tourists, rather than focusing on the negative.

On the TV licensing issue, the government made a good decision in awarding two and not three new licences. It's time to stop objecting and get on with other, more important, issues at hand. If it had issued three, then in a few years when TV stations were closing, we would have blamed the government for issuing too many.

Those politicians who have been opposing the government should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether what they are demanding is really fair, or if they are just doing so to gain popularity with their supporters, knowing that it is wrong and goes against their own conscience.

There is a price for everything, including freedom of expression. Can we really afford to pay it?

Veteran broadcaster Robert Chua was the founding production manager and creator/executive producer of Enjoy Yourself Tonight at TVB, Hong Kong's first terrestrial TV station, and founder of satellite TV station CETV


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This article is now closed to comments

This article is so illogical, it becomes a joke.
"People should respect a government's decisions, as they would their parents' decisions." The Gov is like our parent? Sounds a bit Mao era to me.
And "the government made a good decision in awarding two and not three new licences... If it had issued three, then in a few years when TV stations were closing, we would have blamed the government for issuing too many." No, most HK people (except the writer apparently) would know how a FREE market functions. Mr Chua, I know you are from TVB, but still, you don't need to make your stance that transparent.
Public scrutiny and debates drive improvements in the government and society on a whole, not grinning nods. That's the value of Freedom of Expression.
Shame on you for calling yourself a media-man.
Facile, credulous waffle attempting to justify 'benevolent' dictatorship. Go back to Singapore.
Huh? So TVB taking action against Next is just a good business decision, but Next taking action against TVB in response isn't? How does that work? TVB is refusing Next access, which restricts Next's ability to report news, which affects its business. So Next rallied people to boycott TVB, which affects TVB's ratings, which affects TVB's business. Simple eye-for-eye. This Chua guy is obviously too disingenuous and blinkered to recognize the insane "logic" of his argument. Of course, he has a huge conflict of interest, but at least that's disclosed.
How does boycotting TVB equate to turning off the TV altogether, and how does boycott of one station hurt other stations? The opposite is true...more eyeballs to go around for other stations. And if TVB really feels hard-done by, why can't it go on air to defend itself? Just another business decision.
Respect government like a parent? Is this guy high? I know it's TVB's job to kiss government butt, but does this Chua guy know no shame? And how can he be so sure of government's intentions, since the CE answers to Beijing and not to Hkers? It's true government decisions shouldn't be criticized simply based on benefit of hindsight...but this is not the case here. A current decision is being criticized now. His comparison is apples and oranges. While credit should go where it's due, so should blame. It goes both ways.
And why does he say the government decision here was "good"?
This article is an embarrassment.
"Sounds a bit Mao era to me." No...more like a bit of Confucian blinded, Sing upbringing. Probably had his mother choose his bride and cook him breakfast every morning as well.
The whole idea of freedom of expression is that it should not be subject to limitations of what some people may think is 'wrong' or 'abuse.' Sure, there are limits, but those limits involve things like inciting violence, outright racism, or defamation, and it is up to the courts to act if such lines in the sand are crossed.

If tomorrow, a rival 'veteran broadcaster' would publish a piece on these pages countering Mr Chua's argument, that is certainly not an abuse of the freedom of expression. However, if tomorrow, such a person would write a piece that groundlessly accuses Mr Chua of committing indecent acts with young boys, and calls for members of the public to kill him in an unpleasant manner, yes - that would be an abuse of the freedom of expression.

Mr Chua may disagree with the criticism on TVB, and he may oppose the call for a boycott on those grounds. That is all fine, and makes for interesting debate. Noted. But the criticism of TVB does not even come close to an abuse of the freedom of expression.

To say it does, is just ignorant waffle, and quite frankly pathetic. Rhetoric desperation strikes when all other arguments are exhausted, or simply invalid.

PS. And no, we would not have blamed the government if a fifth future TV station would have gone bankrupt. ATV has been on the verge of bankruptcy for years and were it to fail tomorrow, would we blame the government for issuing too many (that is: two) licenses? I think not.
If government really thought granting 2 licenec instead of 3 should be appropriate, they should have atleats granted to the one who have achived high score instead of granting to the other two whow have not shown any progress but have rich fathers to back them up.. Is that logical and is that what you call free market ?? The best student is demoted while the other 2 weaker student are promoted coz they both have rich father...
What a joke. It is the author who should look in the mirror and ask himself what he is talking about is logical and fair. He was a pioneer in the local TV industry but that does not guarantee that he is qualified to deride others as wrong.
He is not justifying "benevolent" dictatorship. Only those who are blinded by the excesses of liberal democracy and are very dogmatic about it, cannot see the value of other systems which have benefitted society-at-large.
At least in Singapore, people have the right to vote in their governments. So what if HK has so-called "free" and often times irresponsible media that stalk their targets like a hounddog? So what if you can bang your chests and march in protest.
Do 90% of your population own their homes?
Can you choose your leader?
Dream a little dream lexishk. Wallow in your delusion and rot
I am just an ordinary citizen of HK, a place which have given me career opportunities, a safe environment to carry on my daily life, the positive things which HK have to offer me is too long to list here. A certain media group have carried on a anti government white terror campaign for a long time, all policies carried out by our government are deemed to be wrong. They turned their fury on TVB after the free tv license saga stating under table dealings etc without support of evidence. Anyone can see that the protest outside TVB on Nov 19 was carried out in a professional way with a rented crane to hoist up 2 huge banners done in the fashion of those usually placed in a funeral parlor. This is HK society nowadays, if I don't like you then I can do anything to destroy you. By the way Robert Chua is no longer an employee of TVB and has not worked there for a long time. I apologize if this bit of information is wrong or perhaps someone will say he is a secret agent.
JC, how unpleasant you are. I won't be rotting away my life in either HK or SG, but it looks like you'll stew in your own bile like a good nationalist idealogue.


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