Earth-shaking drama in the making

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Apr 2021

Mainland media tycoon and de-facto owner of Television Broadcasts Limited, Li Ruigang, bombarded the free-to-air station with bombshell interviews condemning the company that he indirectly owns through a web of affiliates.

It seems weird that he had to launch the attacks the way he did as he could have easily aired his dissatisfaction during a board meeting that is highlighted on his business schedule while he is here inspecting his investment in the SAR.

Instead, he opted to shell the TVB headquarters from an external high point.

I couldn't help recalling what Mao Zedong did with his communist party back in the mid-1960s just before the Cultural Revolution.

In a big-character poster in his name, Mao bombarded the headquarters of the party he founded.

In TVB's case, it was not a big-character poster but a media interview given to two carefully selected local newspapers, including The Standard's sister publication, Sing Tao Daily.

Li is in the SAR reviewing his business. Apart from the TVB board meeting, he is also meeting with potential business partners with which TVB could cooperate.

The strong and public criticism of the current management of his own company was totally unexpected from such an interview. Certainly, he could have made his feelings very clear internally.

Why did Li choose to bombard the TV station from the outside when he could have exerted exactly the same amount of pressure if he leveled the criticisms behind closed doors?

Mao's "bombardment of the headquarters" not only brought down some top comrades - including then-president Liu Shaoqi and senior leader Deng Xiaoping - but also launched the Cultural Revolution that dominated the mainland for a decade.

Obviously, Li is aiming not only at a handful of top executives in the old management but also something more fundamental at TVB.

It could be a train of revolution-like changes that Li has in mind to transform a company that has such an entrenched culture that it cannot live up to the expectations of the new world.

Certainly, this is going to be easier said than done. A major problem is that TVB's public image is no longer enviable.

In the interview, Li cited a few shortfalls, including outdated programs, old production technology, a factional management and a corporate culture that isolates the company from industry peers.

According to the reporter who interviewed Li, the tycoon kick-started the meeting by repeating three times that he was dissatisfied with TVB.

Saying that the hiring of artists Eric Tsang Chi-wai and Wong Cho-lam as managers was just the beginning, Li made no secret of the fact that the management would have to be reformed to make the company actively metabolic, with new thinking and new blood.

After businessman Charles Chan Kwok-keung stepped down as chairman last year, chief operating officer Thomas Hui To - of Li's Shanghai-based flagship vehicle CMC Inc - was named non-executive chairman. Li's bombardment of the headquarters will intensify the quake at TVB.

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