Amid Hong Kong’s political unrest related to protests and clashes between members of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) and protesters, local broadcaster TVB has been criticised by large swathes of the public over perceived bias in its reporting of the ongoing situation. Yet, after an investigation, the Communications Authority (CA) has ruled that all complaints were unsubstantiated.
On 29 November, the CA announced that it had considered four cases which had been deliberated on by the Broadcast Complaints Committee, with three of them pertaining to news reports or programmes on TVB.
The first complaint related to a 12 June 2019 news report on the protests that aired on the broadcaster’s Jade, TVB News, Pearl, and Finance & Information Channel programmes.
Over 7,400 members of the public made complaints against the news report, saying it was “biased towards the (Hong Kong) government and the police” as did not discuss the widely shared footage and reports of unprofessional behaviour by the police, or the allegations that the HKPF had used unreasonable force against reporters and peaceful protesters or delayed medical aid to those requiring it.
Furthermore, complainants had an issue with the news reports referring to demonstration activities taking place as riots (暴動) rather than protests and describing those taking part as rioters (暴徒) rather than protesters, citing the terminology as misleading.
Some complainants alleged that the news reports were not acting impartially in its overall coverage as well. For example, reports were criticised for not covering the responses of foreign governments and people from around the world on the protests, for possibly exaggerating the injuries sustained by police officers, and focusing solely on the demonstrators committing aggressive acts rather than the large number who remained peaceful.
The second complaint was about the 15 June 2019 news report on Jade, TVB News, and TVB’s Finance & Information Channels. More than 4,700 members of the public complained about the reports, alleging that the reports were unfair in their coverage as they barely made mention or broadcast footage of the violence police officers enacted on crowds and yet again portrayed protesters as rioters, focusing on their resistance against police officers and only reported on injuries sustained by police officers.
The news programme broadcast on TVB’s Chinese channels also drew flack for failing to cover or delaying reports about a protester falling to his death from a scaffolding platform in Admiralty at around 9 pm on 15 June 2019. A major rally scheduled for 16 June 2019 was also noticeably not mentioned in the news reports broadcast on 15 June 2019.
However, after reviewing these two cases, the CA ruled that the complaints were unsubstantiated and decided that no further action should be taken against TVB.
In a statement, TVB has declared that the findings from the CA were “an attestation that our news were [sic] accurate, fair and impartial.”
The television broadcasting company also said, “Since June, TVB has been providing round-the-clock live coverage of the civil unrest as well as violent clashes and is the most-watched TV news channel. We always ensure strict compliance of the regulatory requirement throughout.”
Lastly, it made a defiant claim that the complaints were, “irrational and malicious with the sole purpose of undermining freedom of the press.”
Though no matter how vindicated it may feel, negative perception of TVB’s coverage of the protests has remained intense. So much so, that in October multiple brands withdrew ads from the channel. It remains to be seen if the CA’s ruling or TVB’s statement will have any noticeable effect towards repairing the broadcaster’s image when the damage has been so severe.