A Question of Press Impartiality in Hong Kong

On January 20, 2007, the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority issued the following press release concerning the RTHK television programme "Hong Kong Connection":

A member of the public appealed against the Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing's (CTEL) decision on 22 complaints concerning the RTHK's television programme "Hong Kong Connection"(鏗鏘集) broadcast on the Jade Channel of TVB on 9 July 2006 from 7:35pm to 8:00pm. The substance of the complaints was that -

  1. the programme was biased towards homosexuality, promoted homosexuality and contained discriminating elements;
  2. it was unsuitable for broadcast at the scheduled time and exerted a bad influence on children and youths;
  3. it was unfair to Christians as a whole as the reference to opposition from a Christian in the programme gave viewers a misleading impression that all Christians were irrational;
  4. it did not mention the undesirable aspects of homosexuality such as AIDS; and
  5. it did not contain a warning caption.

The BA noted that the programme, entitled "同志.戀人" and featuring the personal experiences of a pair of lesbians and a gay man, was produced by RTHK and broadcast on TVB Jade at 7:35pm-8:00pm during the family viewing hours (FVH), and that the broadcast of the programme was preceded by an advisory caption "本節目涉及同性戀題材 敬請留意" ("Please note that the programme concerned matters relating to homosexuality").

The BA considered the allegations (c) to (e), i.e., that the programme was unfair to Christians; that the programme did not mention the undesirable aspects of homosexuality such as AIDS; and that the programme did not contain a warning caption, unjustified. The BA upheld CTEL's previous decision that these aspects of the complaints were unsubstantiated as -

  1. the programme did not contain anything which was misleading and unfair to Christians. The reference to opposition from one individual Christian shown in the programme did not amount to a generalization that all Christians were irrational;
  2. the major cause of AIDs was unprotected sex rather than homosexual sex; and
  3. a warning caption was provided at the beginning of the programme.

The BA, however, considered that the programme was presented in the form of a documentary and that the contents of the programme about homosexuality and the legalization of homosexual marriage were controversial in many societies including Hong Kong. The programme was therefore a factual programme dealing with matters of public policy or controversial issues of public importance in Hong Kong and should be subject to the impartiality rule under the relevant code. However, the programme presented only the merits of homosexual marriage and featured only the views of three homosexuals on the legislation of homosexual marriage, rendering the presentation unfair, partial and biased towards homosexuality and having the effect of promoting the acceptance of homosexual marriage.

The BA also considered the programme unsuitable for broadcast within the FVH as children and young viewers watching the programme might have no knowledge of homosexuality and might be adversely affected by the partial contents of the programme if parental guidance was not provided.

RTHK was strongly advised to observe more closely paragraph 2 of Chapter 2 (family viewing policy), paragraph 1 of Chapter 7 (likely effects of all material shown on television on children), and paragraphs 2 and 3 of Chapter 9 (impartiality) of the Generic Code of Practice on Television Programme Code.

Since then, there has been a large number of discussions about that strong advice from the Broadcasting Authority

The interest in this blog post is a meta-question about whether the print press covered this issue in an impartial manner.  The following is the translation from various Hong Kong newspaper headlines (via Diuman Park):

, 2007-01-21, A19
, 2007-01-21, A19
港台惡過廣管局 煲呔政府真失敗
, 2007-01-21, A18
, 2007-01-22, A40,
, 2007-01-22, A40
Oriental Daily
RTHK treats Broadcasting Authority as non-existent, 2007-01-21, A19
Wong Siu-yee condemns role conflicts and lack of supervision, 2007-01-21, A19
RTHK louder than Broadcasting Authority, Bowtie's government truly failing 2007-01-21,A18
Who caused RTHK to be absolutely corrupt?, 2007-01-22, A40
Public media should uphold traditional views, 2007-01-22,A40
節目不公港台被轟 接22宗投訴廣管局促嚴遵守則, 2007-01-21, A08
, 2007-01-21, A08
角色矛盾無王管 新聞自由遮醜布
, 2007-01-21
, 2007-01-22, A16
, 2007-01-22, A16
The Sun
RTHK program criticized for bias, 22 complaints lodged, BA urged follow policy, 2007-01-21, A08
Refusing to admit error, RTHK invites contempt, 2007-01-21, A08
Role conflict and lack of supervision, freedom of press used to cover shame, 2007-01-21, A08
RTHK on the attack once again, 2007-01-22, A16
Evil demons cannot tolerate the Right Way, 2007-01-22, A16
, 2007-01-21, A06
, 2007-01-22, A06
Ta Kung Pao
RTHK gay program said to be biased, 2007-01,21, A06
Government urged RTHK to follow policy, 2007-01-22, A06
港台對「強烈勸喻」表失望 廣管局斥《鏗鏘集》捧同性戀
, 2007-01-21, A13
《鏗鏘集》惹爭議港台發聲明 王永平急晤朱培慶
, 2007-01-22, A03
Sing Tao Daily
RTHK disappointed with "strong advice", BA condemns Hong Kong Connection for praising homosexuality, 2007-01-21, A13
<Hong Kong Connection> controversial, Wong Wing-ping meets Chu Pui-hing, 2007-01-22, A03
戀人〉被指偏袒同性戀 港台轟廣管局妨礙取材, 2007-01-21, A03
, 2007-01-22, A10
Apple Daily
Program segment <Comrade: Lover> said to be pro-homosexuality, RTHK condemns BA for interference in subject choice, 2007-01-21, A03
RTHK shows gay program, accused of breaking promise, 2007-01-22, A10
, 2007-01-21, 明報, A01
, 2007-01-21, A01
, 2007-01-22, A11
Ming Pao
Scholar: BA members increasingly conservative, 2007-01-21, A01
<Hong Kong Connection> accused of promoting homosexuality, BA issues strong advice, RTHK says decision is debatable, 2007-01-21, A1
Concerned about strong advice for RTHK, Wong Wing-ping to meet Chu Pui-hing, 2007-01-22, A11
《鏗鏘集》捱批 港台失望
, 2007-01-22, A30
Hong Kong Economic Daily
<Hong Kong Connection> criticized, RTHK disappointed, 2007-01-22, A30
, 2007-01-22, P04
Hong Kong Economic Journal
Wong Wing-ping to see BA director over <Hong Kong Connection>, 2007-01-22, P04
廣管局指《鏗鏘集》偏袒同性戀, 2007-01-21, A04
王永平盡快約見廣播處長 被指節目偏袒同性戀 港台反擊
, 2007-01-22, A04
Sing Pao
BA accuses <Hong Kong Connection> of pro-homosexuality, 2007-01-21, A04
Wong Wing-ping to see BA director ASAP, program accused of pro-homosexuality, RTHK hits back, 2007-01, 22, A04
廣管局轟《鏗鏘集》偏袒同性戀, 2007-01-21, 新報, A01
, 2007-01-21, A01
, 2007-01-21, A01
, 2007-01-22, A07
Hong Kong Daily News
BA accuses <Hong Kong Connection> of pro-homosexuality, 2007-01-21, A01
Journalist Association: Increased pressure on media, 2007-01-21, A01
Comrades: The road to equal rights is difficult, 2007-01-21, A01
<Hong Kong Connection> controversy: Wong Wing-ping takes action, 2007-01-22, A07

To be fair, these are just the headlines.  It may be that the report might be impartial (in the sense of being fair and balanced to the different viewpoints), but surely the headlines reveal the proclivities and preferences of the senior editors.  Furthermore, these headlines come from news reports and opinion columns.  By definition, the latter is opinionated.

There is also a difference between print and broadcast media.  The broadcast media (both television and radio) are operators who are licensed by the government to use public air waves.  Since they are using public property, they are not free to do as they wish.  Instead, they come under the supervision of government agencies (such as the Broadcasting Authority in Hong Kong).  This is true around the world.  By contrast, the press media are usually private enterprises.  As such, there is no government agency such as a Newspaper Authority to meddle with highly subjective issues such as editorial biases.  There are agencies such as the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority and the Obscene Articles Tribunal, but their concerns are related to obscene and/or offensive materials as opposed to editorial positions.

Notwithstanding these qualifications, did RTHK, <Hong Kong Connection> and/or the Broadcasting Authority get fair treatment by the newspapers?