Discrimination turns critics off TVB 'reality' hit

Nowhere Girls sparks complaints for its portrayal of struggling women - and claims of fakery

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 5:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 4:23pm

Television giant TVB is facing a backlash over a new reality show said to discriminate against and abuse the dignity of underprivileged women.

Nowhere Girls has drawn 1.2 million viewers every night since its debut on TVB Jade on Monday - but the Communications Authority has so far received 76 complaints about its content and premise.

The show centres on seven women who are described as "have nots" as they lack money, jobs, education and prospects. Each woman is said to represent one of "seven deadly sins" including, most controversially, being a recent mainland immigrant. They are shown receiving makeovers and working with fitness trainers and life coaches.

In one scene, narrator Carol Cheng says of one participant, a mainland immigrant: "No matter how hard she tries, she is still unable to get rid of her peasant nature." A stylist then mocks her outfit for a ball, saying: "Aliens are really about to invade the earth."

As well as discrimination, there were claims the women involved were paid and that some incidents were staged.

"Does Hong Kong need a TV show that promotes the culture of fighting and discrimination in order to make more money?" said Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, a local cultural critic. He said TVB's dominance over stricken free-to-air rival ATV gave it free rein for cheap, distasteful programming.

Nowhere Girls is a spin-off of TVB's equally controversial 2012 show Bride Wannabes, in which five women in their 30s had to go through harsh makeovers in their hunt for husbands.

Linda To Kit-lai, executive director of women's charity HER Fund, said TVB was judging people on criteria such as money and appearance, while ignoring values such as love and passion.

But show producer Eunis Shum Ying rejected the criticism. She said the aim was to help the women lead better lives. She insisted that events in the show were real, but were in "an entertainment package".

One of the participants said: "My friend introduced me and I went to the audition. All plots and settings were real. I didn't receive any money."

TVB said it had received just six complaints.

Pang also bemoaned the fact the show took its Cantonese name from Putonghua slang.

"The choice of language reflects the power of a culture. In the past, the mainland adopted Hong Kong phrases when the city was culturally powerful. It is the other way round now," Pang said.

Asked about the show, the Equal Opportunities Commission said TV producers "should consciously avoid any negative and discriminatory messages". It added: "The mass media is a powerful tool to shape gender awareness and sensitivity, as well as to break gender stereotypes."