14 November 2019
TVB has faced flak for wrongly using the 5-stars PRC flag to represent China in a WW2 documentary. The TV station apologized and fixed the graphic but then it botched up on the Japanese symbol by switching to an army flag. Photos: Facebook
TVB has faced flak for wrongly using the 5-stars PRC flag to represent China in a WW2 documentary. The TV station apologized and fixed the graphic but then it botched up on the Japanese symbol by switching to an army flag. Photos: Facebook

Why TVB needs to refocus on the basics

Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB), Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air television station, has often come under fire over falling editorial standards and quality and its apparent pro-establishment stance.

The broadcaster has failed to serve Hong Kong people well despite its dominant position in the market, critics say, accusing the station of focusing more on staying on the right side of Beijing.

Well, the critics now have some fresh ammunition to lob at the broadcaster, whose history goes back to almost 50 years. 

In a major goof-up Sunday, TVB used a wrong flag to depict China in a documentary about the nation’s battle with Japan in World War Two.

In a special feature aired on the weekly show Sunday Report, TVB wrongly used the 5-stars People’s Republic of China flag to represent China during the war time between 1937 and 1945. 

In reality, the flag didn’t exist at that time as it was the military force led by the Nationalists or Kuomintang that was at the frontline in the fight against Japanese troops in China during the period.

If a flag had to be depicted, it had to be that of the Republic of China — used by the Nationalists who spearheaded a victory against Japan in 1945.

The 5-stars flag was adopted as the national flag of China only in 1949 when Communist Party took the reins of power in 1949 after a long civil war.

After viewers pointed out the error and slammed the TV station for distorting history, TVB corrected the graphic and also issued an apology.  

It said it was “deeply sorry” for the mistake in the special program that was aired to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War Two.

But that hasn’t stopped the public from questioning how TVB staff goofed up in the first place.

The station was perhaps too eager to show the ruling Communist Party in Beijing as the savior of China in the battle against Imperial Japan, observers remarked, suggesting a Freudian slip. 

TVB was justified in airing a World War II documentary as China is preparing for a V-Day military parade in Beijing next month, but how did the editorial bosses let slip the embarrassing blunder on the flag, netizens asked.

TVB did not give an explanation but made amends quickly after internet forums were abuzz with chatter that the TV station had misinterpreted history.

Some viewers even filed formal complaints to the Office of the Communications Authority, Hong Kong’s media industry watchdog, that TVB had provided wrong information to viewers.

The regulator is said to have received more than 600 complaints on the matter.

Late Monday, TVB issued a public apology for the mistake and posted a corrected version of the graphic, with the Republic of China flag, in the relevant scene in the online archive.

The TV station indicated that the slip-up was an unintentional error, but the damage has been done.

The latest incident will only add to concerns about TVB’s editorial direction.

In recent months, the station has increasingly been accused of slanting its coverage on all aspects of news, ranging from people’s livelihood issues to political news.

The broadcaster tends to instinctively strike a pro-establishment stance and support the ruling authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing, while labeling opposition parties as a source of instability for Hong Kong.

The station is also accused of toning down controversial livelihood issues in Hong Kong, pointing out that people in the city live much better lives compared to others in most parts of the world.

Few weeks ago, TVB news ran a story on water supply issues in the developing world.

In the program, a commentary ran like this: “In Hong Kong, people are complaining about lead contamination, while more than 70 percent of the world population cannot access drinking water.”

Some viewers interpreted the comments as sending a hidden message to locals — ‘don’t complain, you are much better off than all those without clean water to drink.”

In online forums, netizens slammed TVB, saying the station appears to have taken upon itself the task of maintaining social harmony under the order of Beijing authorities.

TVB has been undergoing some changes since the 1997 handover, with mixed results.

What it needs to ensure now is to quell the public’s doubts about its professional standards, and that it will put independent journalism and strong editorial practices above everything else.

The station certainly has its task cut out.

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EJ Insight writer