TVB has been “strongly advised” by the Communications Authority to observe the television programme code more closely after it suddenly rescheduled a programme from public broadcaster RTHK to make way for news footage of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The broadcaster said the rescheduling was necessary.
The incident occurred on June 30 when TVB should have broadcast the RTHK satirical show Headliner at 6pm, but it was replaced with footage of Xi meeting people in Hong Kong. TVB’s news channel and other news stations had already shown the footage at around 5:10pm, prompting accusations of self-censorship.
RTHK shows are meant to be broadcast between 6pm and 7:30pm each weeknight. However, after the footage of Xi ended at 6:04pm, TVB broadcast financial news for six minutes, then a re-run of a pre-recorded feng shui programme Hong Kong So Blessed between 6:15pm and 6:25pm. Headliner was rescheduled for broadcast on another channel at 12:30am that night.
The Communications Authority received 406 complaints.
Breach of guidelines
TVB had submitted a retrospective application on July 4 for the programme alteration, but withdrew the application the next day. The Authority said that the pre-emption of Headliner and its rescheduling constituted a breach of the Authority’s guidelines.
The Authority said that, arguably, TVB could have arranged to broadcast Headliner in the slot between 7pm and 7:30pm, during which a pre-recorded drama was broadcast.
“The CA considered that with the flexibility already built in the existing arrangement for TVB to broadcast a half-hour RTHK programme within the specified 90-minute Weekday Timeslot, the present case could have been handled much better,” it said.
In response, a spokesperson for TVB said it was necessary to reschedule the programme to broadcast Xi’s speech, and the ruling of the Authority had ignored the circumstances.
“This is the first time that Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong as the president – whilst Headliner is a programme broadcast weekly, it is not even a news programme,” the spokesperson said. “Is the president’s first speech in Hong Kong less important than this programme?”
The spokesperson also said RTHK now owns three digital and two analogue channels, and it affects TVB’s flexibility in scheduling when the broadcast of RTHK programmes remains mandatory: “[RTHK] has no reason to occupy TVB’s precious high viewer time slots – this outdated rule should terminated as soon as possible.”
In response, RTHK said in a statement that it respected the authority’s advice and hoped TVB would honour the conditions of its free-to-air licence.
In mid-October, TVB decided to cancel time slots for seven RTHK programmes, which was allowed under the current guidelines.