The rough and tumble of going on air

RTHK chief Roy Tang might have wanted to keep a low profile, but the broadcaster is never far from controversy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 6:55am

Roy Tang Yun-kwong, the RTHK chief at the centre of a politically charged row, could have seen it coming on his first day on the job.

In September 2011, Tang, a veteran civil servant seen as a rising star among administrative officers, was greeted by a black carpet and protesters at the broadcaster's Kowloon Tong offices.

The show of discontent from the staff association was aimed at the government's decision to appoint an administrative officer, seen as a media novice, to rule RTHK instead of granting an internal promotion. As Janet Mak Lai-ching, chairwoman of the RTHK Programme Staff Union, said recently: "We doubt how much he knows about public service broadcasting."

Tang used to be responsible for environmental affairs and later welfare issues in the 2000s before being tasked to oversee the 84-year-old broadcaster.

With RTHK a perennial hot potato on the city's media scene, it is perhaps unsurprising that two years on, the broadcasting director has found himself in the full glare of publicity, facing accusations of political meddling.

This month subordinates, pointing to leading public affairs shows Headliner and City Forum, claimed he interfered in editorial independence and tried to stall the career of an employee he did not like. Rumours circulated that acting assistant director of broadcasting Forever Sze Wing-yuen might not be promoted to assistant director as he had refused to undertake "political tasks" assigned to him. Looking stern last Monday, Tang, 49, lashed out publicly at his subordinates' handling of the productions.

Tang, a law graduate, said it was inappropriate for the team behind satirical television show Headliner to have come up with the idea of using Nazi characters although they themselves later called it off.

He also accused staff members of giving "conflicting" accounts over why two seats in a September episode of City Forum were left vacant when executive councillor Anna Wu Hung-yuk and Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim failed to turn up for a panel discussion on national education.

But he denied having asked subordinates to carry out political missions. "All the accusations are unfounded," he said. "If any civil servants disagree with their work assessments or feel they have been asked to carry out political missions, they should talk to their superiors or the Civil Service Bureau."

The public display of internal strife fuelled hostility with some of the staff members and raised eyebrows among the public.

But it would seem uncharacteristic of Tang, who has been keeping a low profile since assuming office and has apparently not accepted any invitations for one-on-one media interviews.

He is not the first administrative officer to head the broadcaster, which had struggled for years over concerns about its independence. Then deputy director of broadcasting Gracie Foo Siu-wai served as acting director from 2007 to 2008 after Chu Pui-hing retired early over photographs that showed him ducking behind a woman while leaving a karaoke bar in Causeway Bay.

On internal communication, the unionist Mak said Tang in fact interacted more often with the union than his predecessors.

"He is willing to communicate," she said. "Previous directors would not accept invitations to our staff union plenary meetings right away. They seemed not so ready and had reservations about holding direct talks with all staff. But Tang agreed to come whenever he was invited."

He also held working lunches with newly elected union executives, she added.

"He is more open to talks, but often holds a strong stance and is loath to change his view. He is witty and eloquent and is confident that he could win over others with his arguments. But he is too picky about wordings. Sometimes we should not focus on just one or two words."

That was evident in Tang's denial of having said City Forum should not have embarrassed "officials" by leaving two seats vacant, Mak suggested. At a closed-door union meeting on March 15, Tang argued he had mentioned the term "absentees", she said.

During the administration of chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, Tang was seen as a top aide to secretary for the environment, transport and works Sarah Liao Sau-tung, who served from 2002 to 2007.

In 2009, Tang was deputy secretary for the environment when the government suffered a setback in its move to encourage the use of energy-saving light bulbs.

The initiative was perceived to benefit the light-bulb business of the father-in-law of chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's elder son. All power users would pay 50 HK centst to 60 HK cents more per kilowatt-hour for a year to finance the scheme, which was to dish out HK$100 cash coupons to each of the 2.4 million households to buy such bulbs. Tsang said it was the Environment Bureau that had proposed the plan. The government rescinded the plan in view of criticism.

Despite the controversy, during Tang's term, the bureau introduced Mitsubishi electric car "i MiEV" to Hong Kong.


Roy Tang

Current role: Director of broadcasting

Age: 49

Education: Bachelor of Laws, University of Hong Kong

1987 Joined the administrative service of the government
2004-05 Deputy secretary for the environment, transport and works
2005-07 Deputy director of environmental protection
2007-10 Deputy secretary for the environment
2010-11 Deputy secretary for labour and welfare