Taking care of the interests of ATV staff is paramount
The task ahead is to prepare for a smooth and honourable wind-up
The Asia Television saga took a new twist last night after days of intensifying fracas with the provisional liquidator. In a media statement, Deloitte said a conditional agreement had been reached to enable ATV to continue operating until the licence expires on April 1. The last-minute deal appears to have saved the dying broadcaster from going off air immediately.
The real-life drama climaxed when representatives of Si Rongbin, an investor in the cash-strapped broadcaster, sought to impress sceptics by showing off a briefcase of money and a cheque – totalling HK$10 million – during a televised news conference yesterday. It has to be asked why staff wages were often unpaid if the investor can be so generous. In any case, it does not alter the reality that the day when the plug is pulled on ATV is near.
But Deloitte is apparently satisfied that ATV is now financially sound to continue until the deadline. The deal was also swiftly approved by the High Court, which earlier declined to step into the row.
Whether ATV can survive another few weeks is arguably immaterial. If TV ratings are any guide, few people tune in. But as a government-approved broadcaster, it has to fulfil its duties during the licensed period. The employees also see it as their mission to soldier on until the very last minute.
What matters most is the interests of the staff. A considerable number are said to have walked out after the company continually failed to pay them wages, but others stayed on. Without their dedication, ATV would have been unable to operate.
The turbulence experienced by ATV in this final stage is lamentable. Established in the 1950s and later renamed ATV, it is said to be the world’s first Chinese-language television broadcaster. But regrettably, it degenerated from a once serious player into an underdog that barely survived. A wealth of factors is to blame – poor programme quality, frequent takeovers by new owners, mismanagement, and credibility issues.
The investors and the management are no doubt responsible for the fallout. The government also failed to play a more active role in resolving the issue of unpaid wages. It had a full year to prepare for a smooth exit after deciding not to extend the station’s licence. Since then, ATV has run into more trouble but officials did not invoke the law to speed up the termination until recently.
The task ahead is to prepare for a smooth and honourable wind-up. The stakeholders, including officials, investors and the liquidator, should ensure that staff interests are taken care of.