20 May 2019
TVB is facing flak after its infotainment program Scoop made inappropriate references in a discussion related to ‘haunted houses’. Photo: wikipedia
TVB is facing flak after its infotainment program Scoop made inappropriate references in a discussion related to ‘haunted houses’. Photo: wikipedia

Memo to TVB: Don’t take your viewers for fools

Television Broadcasts (TVB), Hong Kong’s biggest television station, has often faced questions about its programming decisions, with the broadcaster accused of insensitivity and poor editorial calls. 

Among its offerings that have particularly drawn the ire of the public is the infotainment program Scoop, which takes up varied topics for discussion.  

In a bid to garner more eyeballs, the show strives to pick “interesting” themes and offer a unique take on happenings and trends in the real world. 

The approach is understandable, but there is this problem: the producers go overboard sometimes with regard to the subject matter and cross red lines, offending the sensibilities of viewers.   

Well, there was one more such case this week, landing Scoop in yet another controversy.

On Monday, the TVB show dwelt on “haunted houses” in relation to property investment, suggesting that there is good money to be made if people put aside the fear of ghosts and snap up undervalued homes.

While the suggestion itself was unexceptionable, what left viewers shocked was that the topic was taken up while referencing a suspected murder-suicide case in Hong Kong early this week.

In the early hours of Sept. 4, a man and his wife were found dead after apparently falling from their luxury apartment in Yau Ma Tei.

There was speculation that the man stabbed his wife, threw her off the balcony, and committed suicide afterward.

While the incident left their friends and relatives grieving, Scoop chose to focus on how the price of the dead couple’s home would be affected due to the tragedy.

In Hong Kong, prices of homes where tragic events — such as suicide, murder or fire — have taken place tend to fall steeply, as buyers don’t want to risk the presence of “hungry ghosts”. 

Now, this would present an opportunity for someone who is ready to put aside the fears and strike bargain deals for such assets.  

During the show on Monday, the Scoop program host provided investment tips to the viewers, pointing out the opportunities that lie in the so-called haunted houses.

Talking about the incident at the Yau Ma Tei luxury estate, the host wondered if the tragedy may have given rise to three haunted flats at one go.

Apart from the dead couple’s flat, two more units in the building would be affected as the couple’s bodies fell next to the homes, it was suggested. 

A property consultant was quoted as saying that the affected units could suffer 10-30 percent slide in valuations, though it is also possible that prices could hold firm given the housing shortage.

Then, the program host concluded that if people do not believe in superstition and have a rational bent of mind, such haunted houses could be a good investment opportunity.

At the end of the program, an interview was shown with an investor who said such houses can be leased to foreigners if there is a problem getting Chinese tenants.

Now, many viewers found the TVB program jarring and unseemly, given its references to a just-happened tragic event  

While the TV station is free to select its topics, using a terrible tragedy as the reference point for a discussion on property investments is callous, people felt.

In airing the show quickly after the Yau Ma Tei incident, Scoop’s producers can be accused of opportunism and also failing to respect the sentiments of the dead couple’s friends and relatives.

While there are no figures yet as to how many viewers sent in complaints to the broadcast regulator about the TV show, there is no doubt that many people are angry, judging from the flurry of criticism in online forums against TVB.

One blogger commented sarcastically that TVB should perhaps start a new channel called “Dead Dead Channel” to focus on prices of haunted homes.

He was resorting to wordplay on TVB’s new app, which is called Big Big Channel. 

While there was plenty of satire and criticism, most viewers simply accused TVB of insensitive and tone-deaf programming, making inappropriate references to a tragic incident.

This is not the first time that Scoop program has faced charges of failing to respect dead people and their relatives.

Last month, Susanna Au-yeung, the wife of artist Kwok Fung, passed away and the program host made a call to Kwok during a live program to ask the artist about his feelings over his wife’s death.

The segment drew massive criticism online but it appears TVB hasn’t learnt any lessons or tightened the show’s editorial direction.

Apart from lacking sensitivity in dealing with people losing their lives, TVB has been showing to the public that its professionalism may be fading in terms of TV program production.

Last weekend, many people were upset as how TVB conducted the annual Miss Hong Kong Pageant. The show lacked finesse and the production values were poor, making for boring viewing.

Many people also raised questions over the decision of the show’s host, Carol Cheng, to cast two deciding votes, which led to actress Juliette Louie being crowned the winner.

Under new rules implemented this year, 10 celebrity judges, including Cheng, actors Michael Miu, Jessica Hsuan and Vincent Wong, as well as Cantopop trio Grasshopper, voted on the spot to decide the results.

In the last round, a popular contestant, financial services consultant Regina Ho was in the lead with four votes. Louie had three votes. Cheng, the highest-ranking judge, in the end gave her one vote to even out the competition and a second one to break the tie.

Many viewers complained that it was unfair for Cheng to have two votes to decide the result.

And some drew analogies between the event and the current political situation of Hong Kong, pointing to some pro-Beijing loyalists with zero votes occupying seats in the Legislative Council, while those who won popular mandates were disqualified by the court.

TVB will celebrate its 50th anniversary in November. It’s time for its new owner, Li Ruigang, to fine-tune the station’s operation in a professional way so that the station can win back the trust of the younger generation.

If corrective measures are not taken, the storied brand will only see its luster fade further.

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EJ Insight writer

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