With ATV on the brink, officials should spare no effort to ensure its news archives are preserved
Hong Kong’s first television has a treasure trove of Hong Kong’s history on film, something that should belong to all of us who call this city home
Almost six decades of Hong Kong history is faithfully recorded by the news archive of troubled broadcaster Asia Television. It is in private hands, but part of our heritage; many of the moments captured on film can be found nowhere else. Concern that it would be lost should the station, our city’s first, close, therefore has to be allayed. If no new owner is found and an era ends, authorities have to make every effort to ensure the thousands of items are preserved.
The government has so far not shown such an interest. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung told a Legislative Council panel that ATV’s library of 16mm film and video tapes was a private asset and therefore the company’s responsibility. That may be so, but should the firm be liquidated, as seems increasingly likely, there would be a question mark over what would happen to the historical material. Ensuring there are no doubts is in all our interests.
It contains, after all, our collective memories. Among the video reels and tapes are footage of the 1967 riots, the arrest on corruption charges of police chief superintendent Peter Godber, whose downfall was the catalyst for the creation of the Independent Commission against Corruption, the construction of the MTR and negotiations of the Sino-British Joint Declaration for Hong Kong’s return to China. More recently, in 1996, there was the scoop interview with windsurfer Lee Lai-shan, Hong Kong’s first Olympic Games gold medallist. No matter whether ATV is saved or goes under, the future of the archive has to be assured.
Our city has a poor record of preserving public records, in large part due to a lack of laws about what should be kept and how it should be maintained and stored. Should ATV close and no buyer found for its news archive, the government should step in with public funds. The Central Library or a university would be able to provide the means to keep the archive and the history it contains alive for all to use.