Fried chicken ruling limits freedom of expression, says Hong Kong broadcaster TVB

It seeks judicial review after falling foul of rules on programme sponsorship

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 11:37pm

A rule that bans TV artists from eating sponsored food on screen is unconstitutional because it limits freedom of expression, TVB argues in a High Court writ filed yesterday.

The city’s dominant broadcaster has applied for a judicial review of the Communications Authority’s ruling on indirect advertising and product placement in a TV programme aired in December last year.

In the writ, TVB said the authority’s decision handed down on May 24 – which found eating fried chicken in the show to be a breach of the codes of practice governing programme sponsorship – was “irrational, unreasonable” and in violation of the city’s Bill of Rights.

The station claimed the provisions concerned were an “unconstitutional intrusion on the right to free expression”, which is protected by the Basic Law.

On January 18, 2016, the authority informed TVB that it had received 13 public complaints about a segment of its TV Awards Presentation 2015. The subject matter was said to be related to a segment in which fried chicken and soft drinks were delivered to actors on stage.

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The segment lasted for 72 seconds, during which the logo of KFC was visible for 14 seconds.

The authority found the insertion of the segment “gratuitous, not justified editorially and obtrusive to viewing pleasure”, as the female host remarked that she would give the artists “a good treat” while they anxiously awaited the announcement of the awards.

The regulator said the chain’s logo was clearly shown on the food boxes and that there were medium to close-up shots showing the artists eating and passing the food around “enthusiastically”.

The ruling was compared to a previous decision by the authority. In that case the regulator did not find a courtroom skit, part of the TVB 48th Anniversary Gala aired in November last year and involving delivery of pizza in a box clearly marked with the “Pizza Hut” logo, to be a breach.

In view of the comical nature of skit, the portrayal of court officers bringing out the pizza and the jurors eating it in court was not unacceptable, the authority ruled.

But TVB argued that the programmes were similar from the perspective of producers. It accused the authority of being “inconsistent and arbitrary”.

The broadcaster said the Communications Authority had never given a convincing account on why the broadcaster should be acquitted of breaching codes on one occasion but held liable in another instance.

“The authority is under a duty to give adequate reasons,” TVB said.

The station also contended that the sanction meted out by the authority – a fine of HK$150,000 – was out of all proportion.

The broadcaster is asking the court to quash the authority’s decision and declare that the provisions concerned were unconstitutional.

In reply to the Post’s inquiries, the Office of the Communications Authority said it would respond to the legal action in accordance with existing procedures.