Why ATV does not deserve to have its licence renewed

Robert Chua calls for more stringent licence renewal conditions, saying ATV would be first to fail

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 4:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 2:33am

I attended the Communication Authority's first public hearing about the renewal of the free-to-air TV licences at City Hall. It turned out to be a shouting match with many participants just making unconstructive comments. Some even came with placards as if they were protesting in the street. Speakers were chosen at random and many who had wanted to speak (including me) ended up disappointed.

The second public hearing was a little better, in that at least lots were drawn to select speakers, but much anger was still in evidence, mainly directed at ATV, with few real ideas or recommendations for what the authority should include as conditions for TV licence renewal. Still, at least two speakers gave the authority a dressing-down.

Had I had the chance to speak, I would have asked the authority to ensure that a broadcaster's licence was renewed only if they satisfied three main conditions. First, the owners should have a professional TV management team that can operate without interference from shareholders. Second, they must show they have the ability to secure good talent and production teams to create and produce good programmes. And, third, they must have sufficient funds to operate a TV station that can sustain years of operating losses.

ATV has failed over the past few years to fulfil any of these conditions, and therefore I don't believe its licence should be renewed. TVB is the only one that qualifies. I would also recommend that the Communications Authority include the following conditions for licence renewal:

  • Only locally produced programmes can be aired from 6pm to 11pm, to promote local talent, with no imported programmes aired during prime time.
  • Allow only first-run shows to air during prime time.
  • Air a minimum of one hour a day of programmes produced by local companies (not in-house or by associate companies).
  • One hour a day of live TV shows to be produced, as this is the most effective way to train local production staff and talent.
  • Limit programme repeats to only one-off TV specials (such as beauty pageants, anniversary shows and so on), and allow only one repeat.
  • Penalise any station for breaking any rules and regulations with hefty fines. If a station continues to flout the rules, it should face further sanctions, ultimately leading to the rescinding of its licence. This may seem harsh but we must ensure the public interest is protected.

At the same time, the government should be persuaded to subsidise TV stations for the production of socially responsible programmes that are likely to produce lower ratings, to have them aired during prime time.

Going by these standards, I would also highlight ATV's unprofessional operations over the past few years. The station has aired many repeats, produced relatively few new shows except talk shows, and aired too many imported programmes during prime time, never mind its erroneous reporting of the death of former president Jiang Zemin, and countless other instances of unprofessional misconduct and mistakes. Some of these errors could have been avoided if the owners had not interfered with management.

It seems that that the current ATV owners feel they can operate without needing to listen to their professional management team, believing that their mainland political ties will ensure their TV licence is renewed. Can this really be the case? Unless they are able to make some remarkable changes in the next few months, I cannot see their licence being renewed.

As for TVB, it should cut all the disgusting entertainment shows and deliver more new shows rather than relying on the many food and cooking shows it broadcasts today. Encouragingly, however, it is making an effort to produce more socially responsible shows.

There will always be bad TV programmes. What determines the overall health of the industry is the number of "good" versus "bad". Taiwan, for example, has more poor-quality programmes than Hong Kong because of the intense competition, with too many channels competing for the same advertising dollars.

How should we define a "bad" programme? It's more than just something the public finds boring, or is unpopular, which is about personal taste and opinion. Instead, a "bad" show contains socially unacceptable content that sets a poor example with tasteless and crude jokes or actions, and unacceptable sex and/or violence, for example.

This is a lesson for all our TV stations, but ATV in particular. It is now down to the Communications Authority to avoid repeating its previous mistake of recommending three new free-to-air licences instead of two.

After all, I firmly believe that annual advertising revenue cannot sustain more than three TV stations in Hong Kong.

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