TVB hits back at criticism to pull one RTHK show on Xi Jinping for another, less controversial one
Defiant television station urges government to drop requirement that it air the public broadcaster’s programmes
The row in Hong Kong over TVB’s abrupt pulling of a controversial RTHK current affairs programme escalated with the television station hitting back and accusing the public service broadcaster of being “unprofessional” in saying its replacement programme on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit was unimportant.
Facing about 190 complaints lodged with the watchdog Communications Authority and accusations of political censorship by some pan-democrats, TVB broke its silence with a defiant statement on Wednesday.
It hit back at RTHK’s claims and urged the government to scrap a rule requiring TVB to air RTHK programmes.
The Communication Authority said it had no plans to change the rule.
Last Friday night, when Xi was in town to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule, TVB notified RTHK of its decision to pull the latest episode of the programme, Headliner, which poked fun at Xi and made repeated references to the imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. The decision came eight minutes before the programme was supposed to air.
Instead of running the RTHK show, TVB Jade broadcast a recording of Xi meeting various people in Hong Kong earlier in the day and then a programme on feng shui.
“It would be ignorant of the facts if Ng [Amen Ng Man-yee, head of RTHK’s corporate communications unit] did not consider the president’s speech news or thought it was of less importance than Headliner,” TVB said in a statement. “It was an inappropriate statement by a professional news practitioner or broadcaster.”
TVB said it had broadcast Xi’s speeches at the earliest possible time to “cater for the needs of hundreds of thousands of analogue TV viewers who could not watch the digital iNews channel”.
In response to TVB’s latest statement, Ng said RTHK would let the public judge who was being unprofessional.
“Important news does not equal breaking news,” she said. “The recording of Xi was not unpredictable, not something you must broadcast at once.”
Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung slammed TVB’s statement as ridiculous. “The decision [to abruptly pull Headliner] was blatant political self-censorship and a backward step for press freedom,” he said.
The lawmaker claimed that TVB had sufficient time to broadcast the show after running the 12-minute recording featuring Xi.
Hui urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who had signed a charter by the Hong Kong Journalists Association to uphold press freedom, to look into the incident.
TVB went further in its statement to say the requirement to broadcast RTHK programmes was “historical” and “out-of-date” as RTHK had started digital terrestrial television broadcasting service in January 2014.
IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok criticised TVB and claimed it was trying to divert attention. He added that, given TVB’s market dominance, it should continue to bear a responsibility to broadcast RTHK programmes.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Communications Authority had received 190 complaints. According to TVB’s free television programme service licence, the broadcaster must air RTHK programmes thirty minutes daily from Monday to Friday, or broadcast 2 ½ hours on weekday evenings, the authority said.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said he would leave it to the authority to conduct an investigation instead of offering his own opinion, when asked if he viewed the decision as political censorship.