LCQ4: Phone-in programmes of Radio Television Hong Kong
Following is a question by the Hon Fred Li and a reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council meeting today (December 14):
The contracts of two current affairs programme hosts, Mr Robert Chow and Mr Ng Chi-sum, of the Radio Television Hong Kong will not be renewed by the Government next year, giving rise to extensive discussions in the community and some views query that the Government's decision has political considerations, which aim to remove programme hosts who have independent viewpoints and criticise the Government and also to suppress the freedom of speech. Some views also query that the Government's explanation, which states that the reason for the removal of the two hosts is to tie in with programme reforms, is illogical. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) who made the decision not to renew the contracts of Mr Robert Chow and Mr Ng Chi-sum; of the respective listener ratings of the programmes hosted by Mr Robert Chow and Mr Ng Chi-sum in the past five years; whether it knows, how the listener ratings of such programmes compare with those of the current affairs programmes of Commercial Radio aired in the same time slots;
(b) of the respective numbers of written complaints against Mr Robert Chow and Mr Ng Chi-sum in hosting programmes received by the authorities in the past three years and the contents of such complaints; and
(c) whether the two hosts are removed for the sake of allowing more time for the public to express their opinions in the programmes; whether the two hosts are removed because of their style of hosting the programmes and their personal viewpoints; whether it will redeploy programme hosts in the light of listener ratings and public views after the implementation of programme reforms?
Paragraph 4 of the Charter of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) states that RTHK should fulfill the public mission of, among others, providing an open platform for the free exchange of views on public policies without fear or favour. RTHK should be impartial in the views it reflects, and even-handed with all those who seek to express their views via the public service broadcasting platform.
While the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) will provide RTHK with policy guidance and support under paragraph 11 of the Charter, it is stipulated in paragraph 6 of the Charter that RTHK enjoys editorial independence. The question raised by Hon Fred Li involves the contents and hosts of individual programmes of RTHK, which are matters falling under its internal programme adjustment arrangements. I would like to stress that CEDB respects the editorial independence of RTHK and has not played any part in the decision concerned.
I have consulted RTHK on the question. RTHK has informed me that in response to social development and public needs, its public affairs phone-in programmes will adopt a new format starting from early January next year. Changes will include the introduction of "outreach interview" to tap the views of the public on social issues at the scene; more participation by post-secondary students in producing special programmes on current affairs; continued production of special features on topical issues; simplification of the hosting arrangement by having a single host so as to allow more time for new programme segments and for listeners to voice their views.
My reply to the three-part question based on the information provided by RTHK is as follows:
(a) In September 2010, the Public Affairs Unit (PAU) of RTHK conducted an internal review of its phone-in programmes. Subsequently, the PAU proceeded to plan and experiment with a number of new programme ideas, which include special features for topical issues, "outreach interview" to tap the views of the public on social issues at the scene and inviting representatives from political parties to debate on public policies in "The Five Flagposts".
In view of these developments, the PAU decided on the broad framework of the new programme format in mid-2011. With the support of the management, the PAU proceeded with the preparatory work for implementing the new programme format with effect from January 2, 2012. When the new Director of Broadcasting (DoB) assumed office in September 2011, the PAU briefed him on the impending changes. DoB supported the decision of the PAU on the new programme format.
According to the annual listenership survey, the average highest number of listeners of "Talkabout" (hosted by Mr Leung Ka-wing and Mr Robert Chow) ranged from 130 000 to 230 000, while that of "Open Line Open View" (hosted by Mr Ng Chi-sum, Ms Ada Wong, Ms Lau Pui-king and Ms Lisa Leung) ranged from 70 000 to 130 000 in the past five years. As regards the comparison of the listener ratings of the current affairs programmes of RTHK and Commercial Radio aired in the same time slots, we do not have the relevant information.
(b) In the past three years, RTHK received a total of 63 and 78 written complaints against "Talkabout" and "Open Line Open View" respectively, which concern mainly with whether the programme contents/comments are impartial, whether the information provided is sufficient and accurate, whether the listeners have sufficient time to voice their opinions, etc.
(c) The format of "Talkabout" and "Open Line Open View" has remained unchanged for over 10 years. The production team hopes to introduce new elements to the programmes, including simplification of the hosting arrangement by having a single host so as to allow more time for new programme segments and for listeners to voice their views. RTHK emphasises that the relevant changes have nothing to do with the style, viewpoints and performance of the hosts of the two programmes (i.e. Mr Robert Chow and Mr Ng Chi-sum).
The PAU production team will ensure that the opinion platform will continue be open to all after the programme change. RTHK will continue to invite experienced media professionals and experts from all walks of life to provide quality commentaries with a view to providing listeners with a wide range of information and opinions. RTHK will also actively introduce and nurture a new generation of public affairs programme hosts.
After implementing the new programme format, RTHK will continue to closely monitor the performance of programmes and listen to public views so as to make timely adjustments to the programmes concerned.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011