TVB Jade won't broadcast John Tsang Chun-wah's budget forum live
Television operator denies financial chief of real-time coverage amid row with government
The city's biggest television station, TVB, has refused to air a live broadcast of an annual forum on the government budget on its most popular channel next week, citing programming reasons.
The joint-media event, in which TVB itself is one of the eight organisers, will see Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah discussing details of his 2013-14 budget on Wednesday.
The station's move marks the latest salvo fired by TVB in a worsening relationship with the government over the potential issuance of free-television licences to new players.
It will be the second consecutive year that millions of viewers will miss the chance to watch Tsang explaining his new relief measures and tax incentives on the city's highest-rating free channel, TVB Jade.
Viewers can still tune in to the live forum for free on ATV or TVB's digital channel iNews, or watch paid channels run by Cable TV and NowTV.
A spokeswoman for TVB said the decision was based only on "programme arrangements".
Lawmaker Charles Mok, of the information technology sector, said the station used public airwaves to run its business and should not avert social responsibility on such occasions.
"TVB has long been critical of the restrictions imposed by its licence," he said. "The refusal to air the budget forum for the second consecutive year might be a gesture showing its position towards the government."
Last month, TVB Jade gave live coverage to a similar discussion forum on Leung Chun-ying's maiden policy address that the chief executive attended.
The budget forum is traditionally hosted by the city's eight electronic media. It will be held on Wednesday during the prime-time slot of 7pm to 8pm.
Instead of the event, TVB Jade will stick to its usual broadcasts - RTHK's weekly feature Artspiration and its own infotainment show Scoop - according to the programme guide the station published online yesterday.
It is understood that public broadcaster RTHK was ready to make way for live coverage of the budget forum on TVB Jade by suspending its feature for a week.
According to a source familiar with the matter, TVB broke with tradition because of technical reasons. The station ran its shows on a 16:9 widescreen format and was reluctant to screen the forum, which would be produced in a 4:3 format, the source said.
RTHK said it did not get any request from TVB about borrowing its prime-time slot to cover the forum. TVB is seeking a judicial review of a government decision to recommend more free-television licences. The court will hear the case next month.