My Take

The TVB, RTHK censorship row is a joke

RTHK is crying foul after TVB abruptly pulled an episode of its Headliner satire show that included sarcastic comments about visiting president Xi Jinping and references to terminally ill dissident Liu Xiaobo. While there probably was an element of self-censorship, Headliner lost its relevance a long time ago

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 12:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 12:45am

It’s been embarrassing to watch TVB and RTHK trading blows all week. News organisations should report news, not become news themselves.

RTHK has complained to the Communications Authority about TVB’s abrupt pulling of its political satire show Headliner from its scheduled 6pm time slot on the Jade channel last Friday. Instead, the TV station broadcast news footage of President Xi Jinping during his visit to Hong Kong filmed earlier that day. Some media critics have accused TVB of censorship, because the 20-minute Headliner episode carried sarcastic comments made by its hosts about Xi and there were numerous references made to Nobel Peace Prize winner and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is suffering from terminal liver cancer.

TVB has countered that Xi’s visit to Hong Kong and various meetings he had with local people had far more news value than the RTHK show. It has accused senior management at RTHK of lacking professional news sense. But it seems to have shot itself in the foot when it told RTHK that it was going to run “breaking news” on Xi when the footage was shot earlier that day. Still, Xi’s speech, in which he called for unity, was arguably important news.

TVB hits back at criticism to pull one RTHK show on Xi Jinping for another, less controversial one

TVB did run the Headliner show the next day, on its less popular J5 channel after midnight, a time slot that pretty much guaranteed few people would watch it. Pan-democrats have been quick to side with TVB critics, who have sometimes equated RTHK to being Hong Kong’s BBC. Now that would be a satirical statement worthy of Headliner, considering the wide gulf in quality that separates the two publicly funded broadcasters.

There is a very good reason to pull Headliner altogether, though not for this particular episode. Its mission statement is: “We make you laugh. If you don’t laugh, we have failed in our job.” It is, sadly, rarely funny. In fact, half of the show consists of running current news footage with a Canto-pop song as background music. The rest of the show has one host dressed in drag and the other as a eunuch. They could be funny and biting if they had been comedians, but unfortunately not.

A neutral observer might conclude that RTHK and TVB are both right about each other. There probably was an element of self-censorship. But then, the show allegedly being censored lost its relevance a long time ago.