Television Broadcasts (TVB)

TVB breached licence by scrapping satirical show during Xi Jinping visit, Hong Kong regulator says

The Communications Authority received 406 complaints about station’s decision to replace the show with previously-aired footage of the Chinese president and a feng shui programme on June 30

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 12:03pm

Hong Kong’s largest television station TVB breached the terms of its licence when it abruptly pulled off air a programme that poked fun at Xi Jinping and replaced it with less controversial footage of the Chinese president and a feng shui show, the city’s broadcasting and telecoms regulator ruled on Monday.

The Communications Authority strongly advised TVB to “observe more closely” the conditions of its free-to-air licence, after receiving 406 complaints about what it did on June 30, when the president was in the city to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

The episode of the current affairs programme Headliner that was pulled off air also made repeated references to the imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

It was produced by the city’s public service broadcaster RTHK, which complained that it was notified of the cancellation only eight minutes before the programme was due to air on TVB’s Jade channel.

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But a TVB spokesman on Monday stoutly defended its decision and slammed the mandatory regulation for the station to broadcast RTHK programmes.

In a statement, the spokesman said “the authority’s decision showed complete disregard for the circumstances.”

“It was the first visit to Hong Kong by Xi Jinping in his capacity as the President of the People’s Republic of China.

“Isn’t the president’s first speech in Hong Kong more significant than the weekly Headliner, which is not even a news programme?”

The spokesman added that the requirement for TVB to carry RTHK programmes “adversely affects” the station’s programming and scheduling activities.

“[There is] no reason to continue to occupy TVB’s precious high-rating time slots. This outdated requirement should cease as soon as possible.”

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RTHK hit back with a statement of its own, saying it respected the authority’s advice and hoped TVB would honour the conditions of its free-to-air licence, which requires its Chinese channel to run two hours worth of RTHK programmes each week.

Headliner was supposed to air on TVB Jade from 6pm to 6.30pm on June 30, but was replaced with footage of Xi meeting people from various sectors of society and a feng shui show.

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The 12-minute recording of Xi had aired on the TVB news channel earlier at about 5.10pm.

The Communications Authority added that there were complaints that the feng shui programme was pre-recorded and there was no “urgency” to screen it, and that the sudden change breached licensing conditions, as changes to programming cannot be made without prior notice. The complaints also included concerns that dropping the programme amounted to self-censorship.

The regulator also said that TVB’s licence terms included broadcasting RTHK programmes at certain times, and that it should apply in writing to the regulator if it needed to make alternative arrangements.