The subtitles accompanying a Mandarin TVB news programme were rendered in simplified Chinese characters on Monday night, sparking outrage amongst local viewers. Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan generally use traditional, as opposed to simplified characters, which are preferred in mainland China.

The change came in the wake of a controversial Education Bureau proposal that suggested schoolchildren should learn simplified characters.

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Photo: TVB screenshots, via Apple Daily.

The new measure was unveiled on Monday, alongside a host of other new arrangements, including separating the programmes aired on Channels 81 and 85, renaming Channel 85 to J5, and moving the Mandarin news broadcast from the Pearl Channel to J5. The resolution of Channel 81 was also upgraded to high-definition quality.

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Simplified Chinese characters on TVB news programme. Photo: TVB Screencap via Stand News.

TVB Deputy Director Tsang Sing-ming told Ming Pao that the changes were introduced so that the TV station could move towards airing completely different programmes on separate channels. Currently, the same shows sometimes concurrently play on different TVB channels.

‘No plans’ to expand simplified characters

Tsang said that, for the majority of the day, the J5 channel will air Cantonese programmes with traditional characters, and only the 45-minute Mandarin news broadcast at 8:30pm would carry simplified Chinese subtitles. He also said that currently there were no plans to expand the usage of simplified characters in its programmes.

In response to enquiries by local media, a TVB spokesperson said: “Since it’s Mandarin news, what is the problem with using simplified characters?” The spokesperson also said that this meant that there were more choices for the viewers. There would be TVB Jade Channel and iNews with Cantonese news with traditional characters, and J5’s Mandarin news with simplified characters.

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Simplified Chinese characters on TVB news programme. Photo: TVB Screencap via Stand News.

Online backlash

Many netizens expressed their discontent with the new measure. Some suggested submitting a collective complaint to the Communications Authority, saying that, as TVB holds a Hong Kong licence, it should serve the people of Hong Kong. Others also complained about the fact that no bilingual Nicam services were offered and so Mandarin was the only language available. Some said that it was difficult or impossible to change the subtitles back to traditional Chinese, depending on the model of the television.

“I thought I was watching CCTV,” one netizen said. “[Hong Kong movie] ‘Ten Years’ is no longer a prediction of the future… it’s reality,” another said.

“What percentage of the audience do mainlanders make up? [They] need to reserve a channel especially for them?” online commentator King Jer said.

Meanwhile, the government announced on Monday evening that the Communications Authority has moved to suspend the broadcast licence of beleaguered broadcaster Asia Television Limited for 30 days.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.