Hongkongers consider programme quality the most important factor in determining whether a broadcaster should get a free television licence from the government, a TVB-commissioned survey shows.
The survey also finds news and public affairs programmes are the most popular among audiences of free and paid television in the city.
The poll results prompted TVB to defend the quality of its newscasts and to pledge further improvements to what it said was an already good product, in the light of government considerations to let more free-television players enter the market.
The broadcaster released the findings two weeks before it was to present in court an application for leave to file a judicial review against new licences.
Critics have nicknamed the station "CCTVB" for its government-friendly news, drawing a parallel with the mainland's nationwide broadcaster, CCTV.
TVB assistant general manager Desmond Chan Shu-hung called the remarks unfair, saying its reporters were professional.
"If we were indeed closely related to CCTV, our colleague wouldn't be beaten up when reporting in Beijing," Chan said. He was referring to an attack last week on two Hong Kong journalists, including a TVB cameraman, by unidentified men while filming a Hong Kong activist's efforts to visit jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo's wife.
TVB also said it would strengthen its reportage by introducing new features in its free 24-hour iNews channel.
The survey, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, interviewed 1,017 respondents in December and January.
It found newscasts were the most watched genre: 77 per cent of respondents who were TVB viewers watched its news programmes, while 74.9 per cent watched its dramas.
For pay television, the difference in popularity between news and other programmes is bigger. More than half of iCable and Now TV viewers watch news, while less than one-third tune in to variety or entertainment shows.
About two-thirds of respondents think the government should judge licensing applicants based on the quality of their existing products. The poll's margin of error is less than 1.6 per cent.
Baptist University journalism professor To Yiu-ming said TVB needed to improve both the quality and quantity of its news programmes. "It has no news commentary shows at all. Pay-television stations have many."
He dismissed Chan's defence against public criticism. Viewers did not doubt TVB reporters' professionalism, he said, but editorial decisions made by the station's top management.
Professor Anthony Fung Ying-him, director of Chinese University's school of journalism and communication, said having more free-television stations could not guarantee good quality but would ensure programming plurality. "Taiwan has many television stations, and some get very low ratings and are of bad quality. On the mainland, however, competition has given rise to many good programmes."