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TVB seeks appeal over Communications Authority ruling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 10:22pm

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TVB is seeking a judicial review of a Communications Authority decision to fine it HK$900,000 for imposing unreasonable contract terms with actors and singers.

In a writ filed to the High Court on Wednesday, the free-to-air broadcaster asks the court to quash the fine and other sanctions imposed by the authority.

The authority slapped the HK$900,000 fine on TVB in September following a three-year investigation. The probe had been initiated by a complaint from its rival ATV.

In its writ, TVB also asks the court to prohibit the Chief Executive in Council from adjudicating in its appeal over the authority’s decision.

It argues that the appeal mechanism — which allows CE in council to hear appeals over the authority’s decisions — is unconstitutional.

It says the CE in council lacks independence and impartiality and allowing it to hear its appeal would therefore violate its rights that are guaranteed by the Basic Law. It would also mean a usurpation of the courts' role, TVB says.

The broadcaster filed an appeal against the authority’s ruling in October.

During its investigation, the authority examined TVB’s one-show, serial-based and singing contracts from 2007 to 2010 and found some practices contravened the Broadcasting Ordinance.

Serial-based contracts refer to those in which artists agree to act in a series. Artists who signed those contracts were not full-time employees of TVB, but some were required to work exclusively for the station. Others were asked to obtain consent from the station before engaging in outside work during their free time.

Between 2007 and 2010, TVB approved very few such applications, and none of the applications involved working for TVB’s rival stations.

If the artists were in TV series shown on rival stations’ channels, their voices had to be dubbed over. They were also banned from attending promotions for the series.

Singers also faced unfair treatment, the authority said. More than 90 per cent of the city’s singers had contracts with TVB, and they similarly had to get the station’s consent for outside work.

There was also an implicit understanding that they must not speak Cantonese when they accepted interviews with other TV stations, which the authority said hampered understanding and impaired the rivals’ ability to compete with TVB. In more than 300 TV interviews of TVB artists featured on Cable TV from 2010 to 2011, almost all the singers spoke Putonghua.

Although the rule was not written into contracts, interviewed singers and record companies spoke of a fear of retaliation by TVB 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.