Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB), Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air TV station, received a rebuke from regulatory authorities in relation to a controversial programming decision earlier this year.
The Communications Authority (CA), a statutory body that oversees licensing for the broadcasting and telecoms industries, said on Monday that TVB was found in breach of license terms after the TV station dropped an RTHK program from its regular timeslot on the evening of June 30.
TVB is required, under the terms of its license, to broadcast 30 minutes of RTHK programs every weekday, the agency noted.
If the TV station wishes to adjust the broadcasting schedules, it must seek approval from the CA beforehand, the regulator said, adding that it “strongly advises” TVB to stick to the requirements.
The comments came after the CA examined a decision by the TV station to pull an RTHK current affairs program from the regular 6pm slot on the last day of June and move it to a late night spot.
TVB rescheduled the programming in order to accommodate footage of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was in Hong Kong at that time for the city’s July 1 handover 20th anniversary celebrations.
To broadcast the Xi footage, TVB dropped RTHK’s satirical “Headliner” program from its regular evening slot on the Jade channel.
It showed pre-recorded news footage related to Xi’s trip, and filled the leftover time with financial news and a Feng Shui program in the slot that is usually reserved for RTHK.
Following the programming change, “Headliner” was aired in the wee hours on July 1, when not too many people would have been awake or watching TV.
Several viewers questioned TVB’s decision and lodged complaints with the CA.
According to reports, the authority received as many as 406 complaints regarding the incident.
Some viewers accused TVB of being overly eager to please Beijing authorities, while others said the TV station failed to provide adequate notice of the programming change and also that it may have violated the license requirements.
Ruling over the matter, the CA said TVB’s decision to move “Headliner” did constitute a breach of its license terms, as the 30-minute episode was later broadcast outside the agreed 90-minute time slot for government programs.
Also, it wondered why the TV station didn’t put the program back on after airing the Xi footage.
The CA added that TVB could have been more flexible in handling the matter, given that the Xi program was pre-recorded footage and not a live event.
Responding to CA’s remarks, TVB said it believed it would be inappropriate to air an “unimportant show” like Headliner before broadcasting footage of Xi’s landmark Hong Kong trip.
The broadcaster also argued that license requirements in relation to compulsory broadcast of RTHK programs are out of date and that they should be scrapped, Apple Daily reports..
Gladys Chiu Shin-yan, chairperson of RTHK’s program staff union, said she welcomes CA’s verdict.
According to her, TVB had told them only eight minutes before the scheduled airing that they were going to switch the programs, and that RTHK had never officially agreed to the arrangements.
She hopes that TVB would start following and respecting the licensing requirements.
Legislator Ted Hui Chi-fung said CA’s ruling has helped RTHK get some justice. The Democratic Party politician said he deems TVB’s behavior as amounting to self-censorship or restriction of the freedom of speech.
Hui noted that there had been no discussion before the program was pulled abruptly from its original schedule, nor has TVB attempted to take any sort of responsibility for its action.
Another lawmaker, Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, also criticized TVB, saying its response suggests that it is attempting to divert attention from the core issue.
He accused the TV station of trying to please Xi and behaving in the manner of a bully toward RTHK.
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