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Speech by SCIT on Committee on Review of Public Service Broadcasting in Hong Kong

Following is a speech by the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, Mr John Tsang, at the press conference on Committee on Review of Public Service Broadcasting in Hong Kong today (January 17):

Good afternoon.

I would like to welcome everyone to this press conference. I am sure you all know Mr Raymond Wong and Mr Francis Ho.

We are here today to announce that the Chief Executive has appointed Mr Wong to be the chairman of an independent committee to review comprehensively the future development of public service broadcasting in Hong Kong.

You would agree that commercial broadcasting should be market-oriented. It should cater to the preference of the community in pursuit of the highest possible rating as well as advertising revenue.

Public service broadcasting, on the other hand, should be public interest oriented. It should cater to the needs of different audience groups in the community, and serves as a benchmark for the industry in terms of programming quality.

In Hong Kong, we do not have a clear policy on public service broadcasting. The transmission of such service is, on one hand, provided by RTHK, a government department. On the other hand, the licences of free-to-air commercial broadcasters also require them to provide prescribed amounts of public interest programmes.

With the continuous changes in the broadcasting market in recent years, there is an urgent need for us to examine the pertinent issues relating to the development of public service broadcasting in Hong Kong.

Under the principle of "Big Market, Small Government", public service broadcasting, apart from having the mission to serve the public, should also seek to avoid competing with the private sector and distorting the operation of the market. We need to examine how our public service broadcaster should project its distinct and unique public service remit, how it should ensure that its programming policy is driven by public needs, and how it should adhere to the objectives of quality, originality and innovation.

Hong Kong operates at the forefront of media convergence and application of new technologies. A wide range of affordable audiovisual contents on a multitude of platforms are easily available to the public to satisfy the needs of different audiences. Under such circumstances, we need to make clear how we should make the best use of our limited public finance and human resources to provide high quality public service broadcasting.

It is important for us to understand that public service broadcasting is by nature a form of market intervention. The public has every right to know the justifications for providing public service broadcasting, how much public funding is involved and what programmes we should provide.

More importantly, given its public mission, the trust placed on us by the public, and the huge amount of public resources entrusted with public service broadcasting, proper governance is of paramount importance. Issues of governance include how we should ensure an impartial editorial policy, how we should focus the provision of public service broadcasting programmes in fulfilling public purposes, and how we should devise standards to measure achievement of excellence and innovation. We need to clearly address these issues.

We are aware that quite a number of international studies have been conducted on these issues. The public service broadcasting systems in some of the overseas economies have also undergone major reforms of various sorts in recent years. We can take reference from these reforms.

In Hong Kong, the subject of public service broadcasting has been politicised at the expense of professional and systematic analysis. We need to conduct a proper analysis and review. We need to formulate a clear policy framework for public service broadcasting in facilitating both its future development and that of the broadcasting industry.

The Government considers that the best way forward is to establish an independent committee to study in depth and comprehensively the development of public service broadcasting.

The terms of reference of the Committee on the Review of Public Service Broadcasting in Hong Kong include the examination of the justifications for and the role of public service broadcasting in Hong Kong.

The committee will discuss ways on how the public service broadcasting system should be made accountable to the public, especially in areas of editorial policy, programming policy and governance, as well as how we should assess its performance involving the public in the process. We expect the committee to come up with recommendations for an appropriate arrangement for the provision of public service broadcasting in Hong Kong together with implementation plans for the short, medium and long terms.

There is no government official on the committee. The members appointed by the Chief Executive include experienced media professionals, an expert in corporate governance and a cross-media creative artist.

Chairman Wong is a member of the Council of the Hong Kong Baptist University and the Council of the Open University of Hong Kong. He is also a Distinguished Fellow of the School of Communication of the Hong Kong Baptist University. He retired as the Assistant General Manager of TVB.

Other members are:

(i) Mr Chan King Cheung, Chief Editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He is also part-time lecturer of the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong;

(ii) Ms May Fung, Member of the Council of the Hong Kong Baptist University. She retired as the Executive Director (Programming) of the Hong Kong Cable Television Limited;

(iii) Professor Leung Tin Wai, Head of the Department of Journalism and Communication of Hong Kong Shue Yan College. He is also a founding member of the Hong Kong News Executives' Association;

(iv) Mr Pao Wan Lung, Publisher of Sing Pao Newspaper Company Limited;

(v) Professor Judy Tsui, Dean of the Faculty of Business of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and

(vi) Mr Mathias Woo, Creative Director of Zuni Icosahedron

We expect the independent committee to approach the review in a professional, impartial and pragmatic manner, and complete it in around nine months' time. Based on the review outcome, the Government will formulate a roadmap for the development of public service broadcasting for consultation with the public before implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Government looks forward to the outcome of the review with an open mind. We hope that through the active involvement of the public in the review process, the community will gain a deeper understanding of public service broadcasting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006