'No Cantonese' policy never existed, says punished broadcaster TVB

Television station denies banning its stars from speaking the language when they appeared on rival channels, despite watchdog's report

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 8:29am

The leading free-to-air broadcaster TVB has flatly denied that it was ever station policy to ban its actors and singers from speaking Cantonese on rival channels.

In a "policy clarification" issued yesterday the station insisted it had "no control" over what languages its stars used on other stations.

The Communications Authority last month reported that there was "an implicit understanding" that TVB celebrities must not speak Cantonese when they accepted interviews with other TV stations, which hampered understanding and impaired the rivals' ability to compete with the broadcaster.

Three years after it launched an investigation following a complaint by rival station ATV, the authority found TVB had abused its dominant position in the market to prevent competition.

The authority handed TVB a HK$900,000 fine for imposing unreasonable contract terms on actors and singers.

"TVB clarifies that the 'no Cantonese' policy does not exist," the station's statement said yesterday.

"TVB's position is that there has been no policy, not now and not in the future, forbidding artists or singers on contract with TVB to speak Cantonese when they appear in programmes of other TV stations."

It says the "no Cantonese policy" is not encapsulated in any contractual provisions, a situation confirmed in the authority's report.

"TVB wishes to reiterate that [these] artists and singers are always free to use the language of their choice according to individual circumstances, over which TVB has no control."

TVB had earlier rejected the authority's findings as "disappointing, regrettable and without merit", and said it would consider an appeal.

In more than 300 TV interviews featuring TVB artists on rival station Cable TV from 2010 to 2011, almost all the singers spoke Putonghua.

In a notable incident in 2004, Canto-pop singer Eason Chan Yik-shun made a public apology after speaking Putonghua on Cable TV.

Although the rule was not written into contracts, singers and record company representatives interviewed by the Communications Authority spoke of a fear of retaliation if they spoke Cantonese.

They said there was a risk of being denied opportunities to appear on TVB shows and being given fewer music awards.

The Communications Authority said in its report that there was not enough evidence to prove that such a "retaliation policy" existed, but it was a genuinely held perception.

An online commenter yesterday mocked TVB's latest announcement: "The contract has no specifics, but if you dare speak in Cantonese, you're immediately banned."

A TVB spokeswoman refused to comment on whether any form of pressure - other than contractual terms or explicit policies - was exerted on celebrities who spoke Putonghua outside of TVB.

The "policy clarification" was issued by TVB after the deadline requiring it to act upon recommendations from the Communications Authority that arose from the case.