Catholic charity Caritas drawn into row over TVB 'hegemony'

Director at Catholic fund Caritas urges staff to watch boycott-hit show after broadcaster promises donation if audience target is reached

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 5:21am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 8:48am

One of Hong Kong's biggest charities has been drawn into a row over the city's television industry, after a leaked e-mail revealed one of its top directors had urged staff to boost TVB's ratings so the charity could benefit from a controversial donation offer.

TVB offered to give HK$3 million to Caritas and other welfare charities if ratings for its anniversary gala last night hit 30 points, equivalent to about 1.9 million viewers. It followed calls for a boycott from critics of the station's dominance of the television market.

The e-mail - sent on behalf of Caritas Hong Kong's director of social work services Maggie Chan Mei-kit - referenced the offer and said: "Please be informed that [the] director asks the service unit and staff to watch the TVB programme tonight."

Some Caritas staff described Chan's e-mail as "unnecessary and a step too far" and circulated an e-mail in reply, offering to make donations if the TVB show missed its ratings target.

Ratings for the show, watched by more than two million last year, will not be known for days.

Formed in 1953 by the city's Catholic diocese, Caritas provides social work, educational and medical services. A source who works for the charity confirmed the authenticity of the e-mails and identified Chan as the director referred to.

"I thought the whole gesture [by the director] was unnecessary and a step too far. The reply from the colleagues was, however, extremely gutsy," the source said.

Caritas last night confirmed to RTHK that the e-mail was real, but denied staff were under pressure to watch the show.

The row broke out as disgruntled viewers staged a mock funeral mourning the "death of television" in a protest against TVB's "hegemony".

The protest at TVB headquarters in Tseung Kwan O, initiated online, came alongside a Facebook campaign urging viewers at home to turn off the city's dominant broadcaster and send ratings for its anniversary spectacular plummeting. That campaign prompted TVB to offer the HK$3 million donation, with more if the show achieves more than 30 ratings points.

Campaigners accuse TVB of allowing the quality of its shows to slide as rival ATV struggles. Many were supporters of Hong Kong Television Network, the high-profile company led by telecoms businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay, whose application for a free-to-air licence was controversially rejected last month.

About 100 protesters gathered outside the studios as the show began at 8pm. They tossed fake "hell" money at the gates, while two scrolls proclaiming the station's death hung from a crane.

TVB marked the anniversary by submitting its application for a renewal of its licence, which had to be submitted by November 30.

Members of the Facebook group which called for the boycott said they hoped to see TVB presenter Nat Chan Pak-cheung live up to his promise to crawl home on his knees if the gala achieved just three ratings points - fewer than 200,000 viewers.

Also last night, dozens of Kwai Chung residents watched an open-air broadcast of HKTV's show Borderline, screened as an alternative to the TVB gala.

Pay-television players PCCW and i-Cable will launch free-to-air channels after being granted licences. ATV, which has seen ratings decline amid financial and managerial woes, must also apply for a renewal of its licence.

Additional reporting by Candy Chan