TVB has axed its broadcasts of two English-language programmes The Pulse and The Works – both produced by public broadcaster RTHK.

The current affairs programme The Pulse and arts programme The Works used to be broadcast on TVB Pearl at 8:30am on Saturdays and 7pm on Tuesdays respectively. They will still be shown on RTHK’s own channels, including digital terrestrial station RTHK 31.

The change occurred in October as TVB also decided to cancel time slots for seven other RTHK shows. Current guidelines require TVB to broadcast 2.5 hours of RTHK programming per week.

RTHK The Pulse
RTHK’s The Pulse with Stephen Vines. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

RTHK’s program staff union chairwoman Gladys Chiu said that – despite the requirements – TVB has some flexibility to choose what to broadcast.

She said TVB had been broadcasting more than the required hours, and she expected the time allocated to RTHK programming will become closer to the minimum required.

“My observation is that [TVB] will gradually take back the time slots,” she told HKFP. “But we [production staff] are unable to know what the negotiations were with the programming teams.”

Chiu said that some RTHK staff members did not know about the previous cancellations on TVB until it was reported by other media organisations.

“Our colleagues were like ‘Oh? I didn’t know it has been changed already’ – regardless of whether it was Chinese or English-language programmes,” she said. “It would be better if there was prior notification, before we found out that it was gone on the day it should be aired… Our situation was rather passive.”

In response, TVB told HKFP that “We will carry those RTHK programmes as required by the Communications Authority under the Domestic Free Television Programme Service Licence.”

The TVB headquarters. File photo: In-Media.

TVB had been “strongly advised” by the Communications Authority to observe the television programme code more closely, after it suddenly rescheduled the RTHK satirical show Headliner, to make way for news footage of Chinese President Xi Jinping. TVB said the rescheduling was necessary.

The recent cancellation of time slots for seven Chinese programmes on TVB included four regular programmes. Two were on the Chinese-language TVB Jade channel, including Pentaprism and the LegCo Review – New Lawmakers, both were five-minute current affairs programmes. Two others, Police Report – a five-minute English version of the Chinese-language programme with the same title – and News Review, were broadcast on English-language TVB Pearl.

The three others programmes were irregular shows including Transformers, The Making of Healers, and West Kowloon Cultural District in the Making 2017.

Last year, TVB also stopped airing RTHK’s weekly current affairs programme City Forum, a mainstay that has been broadcast live on the channel for 36 years. RTHK broadcast it on its television channel and on Facebook.

RTHK Pentaprism
RTHK’s Pentaprism on October 31, 2017 discussing Catalonia independence. Photo: Screenshot.

When TVB renewed its licence with the government in 2015, the Communications Authority allowed it to choose from a wider range of time slots to broadcast RTHK programming.

Before the renewal, TVB had to broadcast RTHK programmes during the so-called “golden hours” – from 7pm to 7:30pm – between Monday and Friday on Chinese-language TVB Jade. But after the renewal, TVB can broadcast 30 minutes of programmes as early as 6pm, which has a lower viewer penetration. Headliner was moved from the 7pm slot to 6pm in September last year.

HKFP has contacted RTHK for comment.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.