Sunday, 27 October 2013

Do We Deserve Better Free TV?

For more than a week the saga of the free television licensing has been dragging on in Hong Kong. Supporters of Ricky Wong's Hong Kong Television Network Limited are urging the government to revoke its rejection. More neutral people like me are calling on the government to disclose more details on its selection criteria and rationale of the rejection. Not surprisingly, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying insisted that the licensing process was fair and open, compliant with established procedures. His remarks were met with Mr Wong's announcement last Tuesday to seek judicial review on the matter.

While Mr Leung's bullheadedness is by all means irritating and incomprehensible by any sensible mind, supporters of Mr Wong or his company seem to have run out of sound arguments. Mr Wong has been extremely successful in mobilising and securing support and sympathy from the general public, but a few questions remain unanswered:

First, it is common sense for anyone who has some working experience that any form of licence application is subject to discretion of the approver and many other uncertainties. This means success is never guaranteed. Why a smart and seasoned entrepreneur like Mr Wong would invest so heavily and recklessly in his new venture as if rejecting his application were out of the question?

Second, Mr Wong said he received a call from a senior government official inviting him to apply for the licence some four years ago. And thus he did. His insistence that he was invited by the government to apply in the first place seems to imply that he was convinced that the application would never fail. Again, how can an experienced business executive like him be this simple and naïve? Does it mean there was some sort of behind-the-scene agreement between him and the unknown official?

The fact that no one in the media, the self-acclaimed vanguards of justice, seems to have asked these critical questions – at least as far as I can read although I haven't been following every single development very closely – also point to my third question: Do we really deserve better free television in Hong Kong? Isn't it obvious that many of us have a role to play in making Hong Kong television as complacent and appalling as it is?

Some said free television is a daily necessity in Hong Kong. The government's rejection of Hong Kong Television Network is denying its people's right to choose and access to television programmes of better quality. If this argument is valid, then why the so-called "inertia viewership” of TVB can last for some 30 years instead of three? It seems to me hundreds of thousands, if millions, lazy couch potatoes should bear more blame than the magnificent marketing (or brainwashing?) of TVB. In the 1980s and early 1990s when ATV was struggling for a larger share of viewership, how many of us ever paid any attention to their effort? How many of us still remember it was ATV that has first introduced the TV drama classics such as Dream of the Red Chamber, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The New Legend of Madam White Snake and Endless Love? How many of us ever watched ATV's self-produced masterpieces of The First Emperor, Wu Zetian and Thirteen Emperors of Qing Dynasty in the 1980s?

The next question is: Why so many people are certain that Hong Kong Television Network will offer better programmes than the existing players? Just because of the previews available online? Is it wishful thinking or simply high-sounding expectations deliberately created by a mass mobilisation campaign? More importantly, how do we define "better”? In what terms? If we used to rate TVB higher than ATV because we were brainwashed incessantly to do so, are we now repeating the same mistake 30 years ago? How can we ensure that we are not?

Indeed, as the art editor of House News said in his blog, television is supposed to be manipulative, then why so many of us still watch and enjoy it? Why is it so irresistibly appealing for the eye and the mind? For anyone like me who has been fed by whatever was shown on television since childhood, you don't really need to read Theodor W Adorno before sparing a moment to ponder this question. Think about how your beliefs, knowledge, memory and perspectives of this world have been defined by what you saw on television over the years, you will know how powerful and manipulative television can be. In short, it has defined so many of us as we are today and it is extremely hard to break its shackles. Too many of us have taken television for granted, but not knowing that we can actually rectify the self-imposed injustice.

A recent article by Serah Kwong sheds some light on the fundamental problem of the stagnation of Hong Kong television – an indifferent, undemanding audience that appreciates familiarity rather than creativity; that does not protest against mediocrity or, even worse, vulgarity. But she stopped short of asking a more important question: Why the guaranteed access to primary and secondary education and free flow of information in Hong Kong failed to groom critical thinking, sound judgment and a craving for quality among its people? What has gone wrong? Does it have anything to do with our inherent culture and social norms?

Ms Kwong's article is a timely reminder of the importance of demand in quality assurance. Economics textbooks tell us that where there is demand, there will be supply. If we want television programmes of better quality, we have to think and define carefully what we mean by "better quality" and voice out the request. If we were easily satisfied with what is dumped on us, we will never get a better treat. In other words, if we want to make a change, let us change ourselves first.


  1. Anonymous8:54 am

    Right on!
    The viewing public must share part of the responsibilities for the current HK TV situation of “low quality” programming. When people turn on the TV sets and actively or passively enjoy the programmes such as “May姐 雞汁 哈哈哈” , what else can you say? I do not believe that the viewing public are powerless to do anything. In the US and Canada, the feminist groups practically caused the removal of the women’s beauty contest programmes. These programmes treat women shabbily as objects and are great insults to all women. Those feminist groups tells the sponsors of beauty contests “Stop these rubbish programmes or we will stop buying your products” . Eventually no sponsors can be found for these beauty contest shows in North America main line TV channels. Now the contests move to the third world countries. In HK there are many social activist groups for this issue or that issue. Why nobody organizes one to advocate better quality TV programmes?

    I may be wrong, however, that I think HK’s stressful lifestyle breeds the acceptance of “May姐 雞汁 哈哈哈” . After a tiring day at work a brainless TV episode may be the best medicine for people’s nerves.

    Ironically good programmes neither attract viewers nor advertisers. Eventually HK TV industry keeps on selling dumbed-down shows and feels good about it.

    Ontario, Canada

  2. Anonymous1:15 am

    Looking In From Outside
    Mr Wong is a business man. His bid for the TV license is a business venture. He may tell the public his ideas and his grand plans for the TV industry. However, the bottom line for him is to make a profit. All his promises are merely a means to achieve his goal. Therefore whether the public should or should not support his licensing application must be based on this reality. To gain his support he might not mind to answer a few of key questions.
    1) What kind of “new and good” programmes is he going to produce?
    2) How much money is he going to invest on these programmes, say, in the next five years?
    3) How much advertising revenue does he expect to receive to support his programmes?
    4) If the advertising revenue falls short, for how long is he going to put his own money to keep the programmes running?
    5) If the public supports his license application and eventually he fails to deliver his promises, then what kind of compensation to the public is he going to give?

    The public should know the answers before they support Mr Wong. Simply waving hands and shouting “Mr Wong is a good guy. Give him the license.” is not enough.

    CY and his Exec Council rejected Mr Wong for a license. The reasons for the rejection are based on collective bid evaluations, of which political consideration is not one of them, according to CY. It is unknown whether this is true or not. However, the demands launched by Mr Wong’s supporters are mostly political, ranging from explaining the reasons for rejection, to revealing classified Exec Council meeting discussions, to resignation of the officers including CY.

    The media and the columnist are even more amazing. I read one well known writer suggested that the government officials had been bribed for the decision without providing any evidence in his article. Another writer suggests that the reason is that because Mr Wong has no other business inside China, he would be difficult to control for any future dissenting views. The writer forgot that Mr Wong needs the advertising money to survive. These advertisers having business in China are easy to manipulate to place or not place advertisements in Mr Wong’s channels.

    In the meantime the street party continues in Central District. Perhaps these party goers should be reminded to don their costumes for Halloween.

    Ontario, Canada

    1. Anonymous9:13 pm

      I do not think it is necessary for Mr Wong to answer your questions nos. 1 to 5 before issuing the license to his enterprise. Mr Wong has committed to invest 2 billion HK$ in his TV enterprise in the next 5 years. That much is enough. The market will punish him (he will lose all the money he has invested and his firm will collapse<--- but the failure of a firm will not affect public interests) if he fails your quesitons (1) to (5). The Government has failed to convince the public that public interest will be adversely affected if Mr Wong is issued with license and subsequently fails in the market.

  3. Anonymous2:22 am

    If this is only a simple business investment matter, I have no interest to follow Ricky Wong's stories.

    I was disturbed to see that no explanations have been given on why only 2 licenses have been granted. There are rumours that the majority in the Administrative Council wanted to grant all three licenses but it was Leung's decision to rule out HKTV, probably in the hoep to protect ATV.

    Suppose we are having the same issue in countries such as Singapore or Australia, it is likely that govenment officials collect views of the public and develop step-by-step strategies to achieve the goal that will lead the country for the better tomorrow.

    Today, Li Kam Hung (an internet radio commentor of D100) pointed out the good works on the population strategy paper from Singapore and Australia and expressed his dissatisfaction of the low quality paper from Hong Kong SAR. He attributed the poor dealings of the TV license by Leung to the lack of genuine election of the CEO of SAR and the LegCo members.

    A simple logic network can be built to explain the driving forces and the blocking factors for our future as follows:

    Scenario 1 - a democratic government with genuine election

    Policy discussion and vision setting -> strategy and action plan -> allocation of tax money -> remover of non-performer government officials

    Secnario 2 - A government with leaders and decision makers secretly appointed by others:

    filtered election/ controlled representatives -> decisions favouring those in power (not the country, not people) -> tax money/business opportunities feedings those in power and their decendents.

    Individuals like you and me can only voice out our dissatisfaction of the situation by voting of our representatives when it comes to election but when such a venue is denied, we can only show support to civic movements in thestreet questing for our goals.

    The proposed "Occupy the Central" movement may not be supported by many as many people in Hong Kong still endulge themsleves in watching TV series such as 低俗遊戲節目獎門人. They may not wake up until the last minute when they realise that all media, TV/ radio/ newspaper are serving the political party to enforce their control of state owned companies by their sons and daugthers, or their grand sons and grand daughters as the case may be.

    Too bad. Gone with the wind. This city is dying.


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