Tough-talking RTHK TV host silences propaganda fears

'Face to Face' show lives up to the controversy expected of it, but for a very different reason

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 5:41am

If RTHK's new talk show Face to Face was meant to be a government mouthpiece, it has been a complete failure.

The weekly programme hit the city's free TV channels last month on the orders of RTHK's government-appointed Director of Broadcasting Roy Tang Yun-kwong - sparking speculation that it was intended to be used as a political tool. The South China Morning Post had earlier reported that Tang suggested scrapping Legco Review, the 26-year-old public affairs programme, to make way for the new show.

Six weeks on and Face to Face is causing a very different controversy, with the aggressive style of its 30-year-old host and co-producer Erik Mak Ka-wai dividing opinion.

So far, three ministers have faced him on "Friday Home Court", the show's Chinese title.

The first episode saw Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung face a tough grilling from Mak over his referral to Beijing on the interpretation of the right of abode under the Basic Law. Mak cut short Yuen's answers several times.

Mak's style won him praise from the likes of former RTHK host Ng Chi-sum, who said officials should no longer be allowed to mince their words. But others believed Yuen was not given a fair chance to put forth his case.

Mak said he had expected the "polarised" reception. "If Face to Face is a mouthpiece, it is the people's mouthpiece," he said. "We are trying to ask questions from different standpoints, and I am only a messenger on behalf of people from different backgrounds. These are the questions that our guests cannot avoid."

Fellow producer Gillian Yau Chui-yan said the show was following the example of BBC's HARDtalk show. "In Hong Kong, we have Newsline on ATV taking a similar approach, but it is in English. We want to see if it works in Chinese, and perhaps we can set the standard," she said.

While Tang was responsible for the concept, his involvement stopped there, said Yau. "Tang just said we should run a serious prime-time interview programme," she said. "We decided the programme style and invited the guests ourselves."