TV station no-one watches to close

The South China Morning Post reports a mysterious signature campaign purportedly aimed at cajoling at least some pro-democrat lawmakers into voting for the government’s proposed political reforms. Although the idea is attributed to moderate non-lawmaker democrats, no names are given.

The petition reportedly says that even a fake-democracy election in which all Hong Kong people can vote will offer the hope that greater public pressure will come to bear on the city’s leadership than under the current system. This is a reasonable argument. But so is the pro-veto one – that endorsing and embracing Beijing’s fake-democracy system will legitimize future Mainlandization and all the other ongoing crap. The fact is, both claims make some sense and both are imposSCMP-petitionsible to prove one way or the other.

Officials have been reluctant to employ the ‘greater public pressure’ argument. The whole issue of political influence and power is too sensitive to discuss out loud. The Communist Party has all ultimate power. It co-opts ‘various sectors’ like property tycoons with commercial benefits and a bit of influence. Influence/power is a zero-sum thing: give more to one person or group, and by definition you take it away from others. If the proposed ‘fake democracy’ system does increase the public’s influence over the Chief Executive (theoretically possible even in a pre-screened competitive race), who would lose it? It must come from somewhere.

To put it another way, if an official like Chief Secretary Carrie Lam or some Liaison Office ogre openly promised that the tycoons would have less clout if the package went through, the pro-dems would have no choice but to vote it in. Then again, Beijing could strip the tycoons of whatever influence they have at any time (leaving aside that it’s more illusion than substance) with no need for a political reform package. It all comes down to whether the Communist Party is constitutionally capable of relinquishing just a bit of control, even within a definite and managed framework. Whoever is behind the ‘petition’ is arguing that it can.

For a clue as to whether they are correct (or being honest), let’s move on to the big story today: the Hong Kong government will not renew ATV’s broadcasting licence. Since the SCMP-curtainsstation is unable to pay its staff, let alone produce worthwhile programming, this is hardly surprising. But the story offers a microcosm of the contradictions Hong Kong has to deal with as a free society and market under the sovereignty of a one-party state.

Not many people like to spell it out, but the basic rule is that no-one can operate a TV or radio station in Hong Kong unless the Chinese Communist Party is OK with them. The result is an industry that has increasingly been run by shoe-shiners and even buffoons. This secret, unwritten policy was pretty much on display when the government denied a licence to Ricky Wong’s HKTV in 2013 while giving the go-ahead to Beijing-loyalist tycoons’ rival services.

For reasons we can only wonder at, a self-consciously pro-Beijing corporate culture sadly tends to eat away at the creative vision and flair that make for great – or even average – media companies. As ATV became more ‘red’, its ratings predictably dwindled. Traditional print and broadcast models are having a tough enough time, without driving audiences away with pro-Communist propaganda. Little surprise that for much of the politically aware younger generation, the main or even sole source of news and comment (and entertainment) is on-line.

Leaving the public-service RTHK aside, the nearest to a bold and independent broadcast presence in Hong Kong will now be the newly licenced HKTVE run by Richard Li – number-two son of uber-tycoon Li Ka-shing. For possible reasons we will gloss over (of a sibling-rivalry/Oedipus nature), the boy Richard has a maverick streak that has led him to do wacky things like buy advertising in the pro-democracy Civic Party’s publication. But essentially, broadcasting in Hong Kong looks set to be ever-more ‘harmonized’, and less watched and less profitable with it. Crush the life out of something. This is success, Communist dictatorship-style.

I declare the five-day weekend open with a treat for heraldry (or just design) fans I just found tucked away in my photos folders…


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10 Responses to TV station no-one watches to close

  1. reductio says:

    Can someone explain to me why the grading system in the HK Secondary Diploma goes A**, A*, A, B, etc. Why not just have A, B, C, D…? An employer who sees a candidate with an A in, say, English actually thinks “so you got a C in English”. Fans of the film This is Spinal Tap will recognise this situation as a classic Nigel Tufnel “Yeah, but this goes to 11” moment.

  2. Cassowary says:

    I haven’t watched much TV in years. My TV isn’t even hooked up to the terrestrial channels and I have a Now Broadband subscription only because there aren’t any other high speed internet providers that service my building. So my last encounter with ATV programming was I was sent a link to their “newsmagazine” programme during Occupy.

    “Pro-establishment” didn’t even begin to describe it. It was red like a gaping stab wound. It was mouth-frothing Ta Kung Po levels of foreign forces CIA conspiracy-mongering crazy. The presenter (I will not use the word “journalist”) went around interviewing various pro-democracy figures, aggressively insinuating increasingly far-fetched conspiracies while they gaped at him in astonishment. “Well, how can you prove that you’re NOT a man-eating reptile from Alpha Centauri? You can’t now, can you? Gotcha!”

    Good riddance. A replacement as bland and asinine as TVB would be a marked improvement.

  3. PD says:

    “if an official like Chief Secretary Carrie Lam or some Liaison Office ogre openly promised that the tycoons would have less clout if the package went through, the pro-dems would have no choice but to vote it in”: come again?

  4. LRE says:

    It is extremely amusing to see that ExCo would rather shut down the CCP’s very own, fully approved, sweet-smelling CCTV’s sole terrestrial channel in Hong Kong without even checking the rumours are true than let Ricky Wong have a shot at running ATV.

    So much for yesterday’s heralded “youth competitiveness”. Apparently the HK Government isn’t actually that keen on competitiveness.

    I suspect ExCo requires fresh brown trousers and cycle clips all round after what has to count as one of the best April fool’s pranks ever perpetrated. Hats off to Wong Ching and Wong Ben-koon for that gem! If only they’d been as creative with their programming…

  5. Joe Blow says:

    The saddest thing is that with the demise of ATV, we didn’t get rid of Michael -who needs democracy ?- Chugani.

  6. Scotty Dotty says:

    Thank you Hemlock for this summary and, as ever, for so ably filling the gap of quality media in Hong Kong.

    Happy Easter everyone.

  7. PCC says:

    Your photo montage depicts two belts, two roads. This is not funny. Your deviation from the party line is noted. People have been made the subject of anti-graft investigations for less. You have been warned.

  8. NIMBY says:

    Now TV’s Cantonese News provided some pretty positive coverage of the student’s occupation movement** This is probably why the government is sitting on PCCW and Cable’s final approval after they won the license tender. A sort of let’s get this off the table and hope everyone forgets about it. As I hear it, HKTVE is a long way from getting final approval to go to air.

    **The Students movement is often wrongly called Occupy Central – the plan Benny hashed out over many months of consultation was very different. It is a shame Benny pissed on all the participants in those exercises by throwing the play book away and joining up a movement with no game plan, even if he said he did it halfheartedly)

  9. Chinese Netizen says:

    Chugani. The schizo conscience of “expats” in HK holding foreign passports, coddling up to the powers that be, yet railing against his landlords for raising his rent.

  10. Cassowary says:

    Now TV very obviously took the piss out of the government’s position during the Umbrella Movement. A typical example:

    Voiceover: “Police spokesman Hui Chun-tak said that the police exercised maximum tolerance and restraint towards the protesters, who kept charging at police lines.”
    Footage: Police officers beating the ever loving crap out of protesters who mostly appear to be running away.

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