WHARF Cable's news operation has found itself in the middle of a bitter row over accusations of staff poaching. ATV's news and public affairs controller, Mr Timothy Jim Sui-hing, claimed the cable company had gone on a ''fishing expedition'' to attract staff using ''unethical'' methods. He said Wharf Cable was asking reporters, producers, technicians and support staff to leave their companies, but without giving them a contract. According to Mr Jim, many of those who resigned found Wharf Cable would not hire them or they were expected to do a different job. It had failed to live up to an undertaking to the Government to train its own staff and recruit from existing broadcasters, he said. Wharf Cable is still waiting for a 12-year licence from the Government and for Chinese approval of the $7 billion scheme, although staff are working towards an October launch. TVB's deputy news and public affairs controller, Mr K. C. Tsang, said the station had not been hit as hard as ATV, but he was critical of what he called Wharf Cable's ''unfair'' competition for staff. Wharf Cable's news controller, Mr Loh Chan, strongly denied claims it had poached staff from other stations, saying they had approached the company. Natural attrition accounted for most of the people leaving ATV and TVB, he said. Only a third of Wharf Cable's 250 newsroom staff will have had television experience, with the rest receiving in-house training. The Government was happy with the way Wharf Cable was recruiting staff and the station was the victim of a ''misinformation campaign'', Mr Loh said. About 50 of 160 newsroom staff had left ATV this year, Mr Jim said. While not all had gone to Wharf Cable, it had tried to attract ATV employees by saying successful applicants would receive pay rises of between 20 and 30 per cent. ''We have anticipated there would be losses as people go to a new medium - that is reasonable - but not at this rate,'' Mr Jim said. ''You need the experienced people that have left; without them it is quite disruptive to our regular operation. ''Wharf Cable has targeted specific people like video editors, producers and engineers. ''It is not easy to replace them quickly because there is only a small pool of talent to choose from.'' Mr Tsang said TVB had lost 40 staff in the past 18 months but they had been replaced. ''We were psychologically prepared for cable two years ago and we can cope better because of our resources,'' he said. ''I would not call it unethical, but I do not think it is very nice to draw on the existing stations almost exclusively for talent, although we would expect some cases of people moving over.''