Sorry RTHK pulls cop-bashing show

Top News | Erin Chan 20 May 2020

Erin Chan and Michael Shum

Radio Television Hong Kong announced last night it will temporarily suspend its Chinese-language news satire program Headliner, which has come under fire for an episode ridiculing police officers.

And the broadcaster said it will apologize for any offense caused to members of the public as well as police officers.

The announcement came just hours after the Communications Authority slapped the public broadcaster with a warning for "denigrating" and "insulting" the police.

"CA decided that RTHK should be warned to observe more closely the relevant provisions in the TV program code," the authority said yesterday.

The satirical program, which has been on the air for more than 30 years, was the subject of more than 3,300 complaints over an episode aired on February 14, it said. RTHK said Headliner would return for the next season.

The complaints were mainly over the episode maliciously badmouthing the work of police in pandemic prevention, inciting hatred against police by broadcasting impartial content and failure to provide a broad range of views.

Although RTHK has classified the program as a "personal view program," the authority said the show should still be based on facts and include a sufficiently broad range of views to be expressed.

It also noted that RTHK was not able to substantiate a remark in the show, or demonstrate that it had made reasonable efforts to ensure that they were factually accurate.

In a sketch of the episode, the host accused police officers of stockpiling protective equipment amid the Covid-19 epidemic.

"The media report [that the RTHK referred to] did not contain any reference to support that the police had a surplus stock of surgical masks," it said.

In another sketch, the host of the show, who parodied a police officer, with his neck and hands wrapped with rubbish bags, emerged from a large rubbish bin and ended with him returning to the large rubbish bin.

"The portrayal had nothing to do with any particular conduct or the work of the police, or public concerns on the way the police exercised their authority, but with an intention of denigrating the police as a social group, and was also a gratuitous attack on that entire group."

Meanwhile, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau demanded a full review of the program's production and editorial processes, as well an apology and disciplinary action against staff members who have committed mistakes or negligence over the episode.

"The CEDB took the view that the situation is very serious, given that RTHK, as a public service broadcaster, has been repeatedly ruled to have breached the various provisions in the code, including failure to ensure the accuracy of the factual contents in the program," the bureau said.

It said the broadcaster should review whether there is any negligence and error committed by staff and personnel in the course of the production and editorial processes and, if so, appropriate disciplinary actions should be taken.

RTHK said Headliner will be suspended as the current season is five episodes away from its ending, and a thorough review will be conducted on how it can continue under an "ever-changing social environment."

Amen Ng Man-yee, the director of the broadcaster's corporate communication and standards sector, said RTHK accepts the ruling by the Communication Authority and will follow up on its findings.

Gladys Chiu Sin-yan, chairwoman of RTHK Program Staff Union, confirmed last night that Headliner will be revived after the review but that next season's timetable has not yet been released.

"As a satirical program, we believe those in power should be monitored, and citizens grievances could be laughed off," Chiu said. "If the program should be judged by standards of PVP, we are worried that similar shows might also be killed in the future."

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