Hong Kong's biggest television station, TVB, was told on Wednesday that it can stop airing programmes from public broadcaster RTHK, including the popular and recently controversial "Headliner" show, and current affairs programme "Hong Kong Connection".
The Communications Authority made the announcement just weeks after TVB asked for the requirement to be lifted, with ViuTV also now free to stop airing RTHK shows.
Licencing conditions previously meant that TVB was required to carry 3.5 hours of RTHK programmes on its Chinese channels per week, and ViuTV obliged to air 2.5 hours of programmes "in the public interest" provided by the government department.
The requirement for free-to-air broadcasters to show RTHK programmes was first introduced in 1990. At the time, RTHK did not operate its own TV channels.
The Communications Authority notes that as well its three digital terrestrial television channels, RTHK also makes its programmes available on its website and mobile apps.
"After considering the free TV licensee's request and the views of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Communications Authority concurs that there is no justifiable case to continue to require commercial broadcasters to broadcast RTHK programmes," a statement said.
"Furthermore, lifting the requirements enables free TV licensees to put the spectrum and airtime released to more efficient use. The timeslots vacated could be used to broadcast other programmes, thereby providing more diversified TV programme choices to the public," it adds.
"This could also allow commercial broadcasters to generate more advertising/sponsorship income, thereby facilitating their business amidst the increasing challenges faced by the broadcasting industry."
The authority noted that RTHK had not objected to the move. It said the two free-to-air broadcasters can decide themselves if and when to stop airing the public broadcaster's programmes.
TVB welcomed the decision, saying it has been appealing for the requirement to be dropped since 2016. It said the requirement is "sheer duplication" and deprives viewers of more choice. The broadcaster says it plans to use the time freed up to extend its "News at 6:30" programme from 30 minutes to 1 hour, as there is demand for more news from the public.
RTHK's Programme Staff Union criticised the decision and said TVB should be required to pay back millions of dollars in fees which, according to the union, were waived in return for TVB continuing to air RTHK's output.
In the summer of 2017, RTHK and TVB had a public falling out after TVB pulled an episode of Headliner from its scheduled evening time slot without warning. Footage of President Xi Jinping speaking in Hong Kong earlier in the day was shown instead, prompting the government-run broadcaster to file a complaint to the Communications Authority.
The authority said at the time that TVB should have asked permission for the schedule change in advance.
Last updated: 2020-MM-DD HKT 21:20
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