RTHK numbers are just chicken feed

Editorial | Mary Ma 29 Nov 2018

It's amazing to learn 6,400 viewers regularly watch Radio Television Hong Kong's TV channels for I expected the number would be much less.

Perhaps, Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing should be proud of the loyalty of this tiny mass - in view of the impoverished programs the public broadcaster has been churning out since it was given its own TV channels to air.

I've stopped tuning into Channel 31 for some time, and would only very occasionally watch Channel 32 for live feeds from the Legislative Council or other events. Most of the time, I prefer to monitor the live feeds from social media.

As Director of Audit David Sun Tak-kei came up with the damning report on RTHK, it would have been nice if he or someone had also taken the findings further, to find out why a few thousand people stuck to a TV monitor filled with photo galleries and rolling text of some news bits.

Maybe researchers could dig up some interesting discoveries from the viewing habits of these few thousand. At worst, they might just love watching people putting on make-up, or pretty girls roaming about.

Sun's report offered a few other takeaways too, related to program re-runs and fiscal discipline.

For example, according to the audit report, a music program was aired repeatedly - five times during the six months from August last year to January. The auditor was totally right in pointing this out, saying it didn't make any sense. It's abundantly clear the program was used merely as a filler to occupy airtime that's nonetheless a precious public asset. That's the worst example of waste.

RTHK was then criticized for not following government procurement procedure in exploring different suppliers.

Most of the time, only one supplier was solicited for each TV program - a questionable practice that even the Independent Commission Against Corruption had warned about sometime ago.

Furthermore, there are dinosaur-aged production of educational TV programs for schools. While I'm not surprised that schools have been switching away from the education TV, what has astonished me is that there are still some schools requiring students to watch it during class time in this digital age.

Wouldn't it make better sense to use the class time doing something else to enlighten the young minds?

In the 2004/05 year, kindergarten kids watched an average of 13.1 education TV programs, which shrank to 4.4 in 2015/16. During the same period, secondary students also watched fewer education TV programs than before.

As a result, the production cost per program hour rose steadily because of decreased productivity - from HK$770,000 in 2008/09, to HK$1.58 million per program hour in 2017/18 - whereas the unit cost for current affairs production was HK$330,000 per program hour.

How could this not be a concern?

If private broadcasters are under pressure to generate revenues to keep operations afloat, RTHK as a public body is under pressure to spend the money allocated to it. The audit report has presented a case impossible for RTHK to defend.

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