Tempers flare as ATV rally highlights split over station
Numbers supporting call to keep chief are lower than expected - and they face vocal opposition
Scores of staff and supporters of embattled free broadcaster ATV rallied at the government headquarters in Admiralty yesterday to protest against an order to remove its executive director.
At least 70 pro-ATV protesters faced off against their anti-ATV counterparts, shouting expletives at one another as police helped keep both sides apart.
The station acknowledged that the turnout was significantly lower than its original estimate of 200 to 300, but said participation in the event was "voluntary".
Last Friday, the Communications Authority ordered ATV to remove James Shing Pan-yu from his post by September 2, saying he had breached a licensing agreement by helping investor Wong Ching interfere in the station's day-to-day operations. The company was also fined HK$1 million.
Former actress Bonnie Ngai Chau-wah, who heads ATV's Asia Club, one of the groups backing the protest, said she did not support Shing breaking the law by refusing to step down, but hoped the broadcasting watchdog would re-evaluate its report.
"If Shing steps down and Wong pulls out his investment from the station, what is to become of ATV and its employees? Many of them have families to support," she said.
Ngai said she did not want to see a repeat of the 1978 fall of Commercial Television, the free broadcaster that closed and laid off 800 after the government pulled its licence.
The rally was co-organised by the Asia Club, Hong Kong Media Watch and the Asia Dance and Singing Troupe.
ATV said it would appeal against the ruling and Shing would "fight on till the very end".
On stage at the rally, Shing said briefly: "Before I decide on whether to step down, I will keep a low profile.
"I hope all staff and artists can … help improve ATV and continue serving residents." He also said he would "be willing to sacrifice himself for ATV".
Employees also took the stage, talking about their experiences working with Shing.
Starlets sang station songs The Great Wall Will Never Fall and A True Man.
Several pro-government and pro-ATV groups chanted "support a conscientious television station" and "oppose political persecution of ATV".
HK First, led by pan-democratic lawmakers Claudia Mo Man-ching and Gary Fan Kwok-wai, staged a counter protest criticising ATV for poor entertainment and skewed journalism.
It also urged the government to issue more free television licences and end a decades-long duopoly held by ATV and its bigger rival, TVB. James Hon Lin-shan a leader of The League in Defence of Hong Kong Freedom, said the lack of choice was unfair to low-income earners who could not afford a cable network.
Mo said: "There is zero, almost negative, creativity in ATV's content and it re-runs shows four times a day. It is now the biggest joke in Hong Kong and an insult to all those working in the television industry." Mo also accused ATV's news and commentary programmes of being biased, flawed and fictitious.