ATV - Asia Television Limited
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Throwing out yesterday's news

YOU will not find ATV's chief controller of News and Public Affairs, Mr Timothy Jim, sitting back in his executive chair enjoying the view from the top, but you will find him riding the MTR, listening to radio phone-in programmes or running to a brainstorming session.

Mr Jim is obsessed with keeping his finger on the pulse of Hongkong life, and when he senses things have changed, he is the first to take action.

To this end, he decided to revamp the look and format of Newsline, which uses the same Ovaltine-coloured set as the morning news show on the Home channel. The updated Newsline will have a warm, study atmosphere with bookshelves in the background to make guests feel more at ease.

But building the new set, which will also be used for Chinese public affairs programmes, has been hard for the cash-starved channel.

''We'd like to make a more three-dimensional set, but given our budget restrictions that is certainly a difficult task for the art designers ,'' said Mr Jim. ''You read in the newspaper that Mr Lim [Por-yen, ATV's chief executive officer] has stretched to give us more support, but so far we have seen nothing concrete.'' While the cosmetic changes are important, the ATV news team is also making its format more punchy, shortening the reports, letting the picture and the sound tell the story rather than relying on talking heads.

This upbeat and straightforward attitude veers away from authoritarian, rigid presentation and moves towards shortening the distance between the newsroom, the presenter and the public.

''Our current format is three years old, and the atmosphere in Hongkong has changed drastically since then,'' Mr Jim said. ''People now have a shorter fuse, they speak out more, they are more ready to argue and want to know what is going on in the world and we hope our moves reflect this attitude.'' Viewers can expect to see some new faces at the news desk soon but Mr Jim would not reveal any names, saying only he was in the process of evaluating several candidates.

Other ATV changes include the recent launching of Money Magazine, a new public affairs show for the Home channel, as well as plans to expand the late news from five minutes to 15.

But Mr Jim was quick to dismiss suggestions ATV was focusing less on English programmes and more on Cantonese ones, saying the English and Chinese programmes were of equal importance in the cosmopolitan marketplace of Hongkong.

And despite the financial situation at ATV, Mr Jim was adamant the changes were not merely a response to the stiff competition from TVB, whose news programmes are better financed and use more advanced technology.

''Given the big budget and state of the art equipment at TVB, they should pull up their socks and do a little bit more,'' said Mr Jim.

''When it comes to news, we are the big brother, we set our own agenda. I don't consider what my friendly neighbour is doing because my job is to satisfy the public's right to know.'' Keeping pace with the changing needs of the Hongkong viewing audience is notoriously difficult, and with such a small financial margin of error to work with, it remains to be seen if ATV's gamble will pay off.