RTHK denied Olympics rights no big deal

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 May 2021

RTHK advisory board chairman Lam Tai-fai has been off the mark by asserting that the exclusion of RTHK from the Tokyo Olympics broadcasting deal was an example of the "cares" the administration has had for the public broadcaster.

His words were no wiser than Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's unimpressive comment that she didn't think RTHK had the capacity or resources to cover the 17-day games - though she stepped back a little to give RTHK a small positive brush later

Acting like a special kind of white knight, the government took the unprecedented move to intervene to secure the Olympic broadcasting rights with taxpayers' money.

Five licensed TV stations - Viu TV, TVB, Open TV, Now TV and i-Cable - are being told to gear up for live coverage from Tokyo.

Meanwhile, due either to its lack of "capacity" - or special "cares" afforded it - RTHK can just sit back and wait to be fed segments of the action by the commercial operators.

This is surely a slap in the face of the public broadcaster.

Carrie Lam should make the role of RTHK crystal clear and leave no doubt about where it stands - particularly vis-a-vis the private sector.

It is anyone's guess how many of Hong Kong's seven million-plus population will be glued to their TV screens over the summer, but the viewership will be spread wide across the five channels.

Given the size of the pie - albeit hardly thick crust - it's just fair that government-owned RTHK should not be allowed to compete with its private-sector peers.

And both Lams missed the point with their comments - the fundamental issue is nothing to do with "capacity" or "cares."

As the drastic surgery continues at RTHK, people have started to question the broadcaster's position in the SAR.

If the two Lams had been a little wiser, they might have simply said that, as a public body, RTHK was not expected to compete with its commercial peers.

This is a point that Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah should have made even if his boss failed to do so.

It made no sense to claim that RTHK did not have the capacity or resources in view of its public funding.

In 2012, i-Cable paid US$16 million (HK$124 million) to purchase the broadcasting rights of the London Olympics. Four years later in 2016, TVB reportedly secured the Rio games for US$15 million. The spectacular investments by the two stations burst like fireworks.

Unfortunately, the operating environment ever since could not have been any tougher. Amid massively sinking advertising revenues, it is no longer viable for local commercial broadcasters to pay hefty sums to secure the rights of mega events.

In principle, it is controversial for the administration to interfere with de-facto subsidies to commercial TV operators.

Although the public is not viewing the government's move on the Tokyo games rights as a controversy, what matters is that the authorities do not show favoritism to any particular TV operators.

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