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IFJ condemns interference with editorial independence

(IFJ/IFEX) - December 6, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the interference by senior management of Asia Television Ltd (ATV) with the editorial independence of its newsroom, as revealed in the recent findings of the Broadcasting Authority of Hong Kong.

On the night of July 6, ATV aired a false report that the former President of China, Jiang Zemin, 84, was dead. Shortly afterwards the colour of the TV station logo was changed from red and orange to black.

On December 5, the Chairperson of the Broadcasting Authority of HK, Ambrose Ho, announced the findings of the inquiry into the ATV's false news report.

The findings revealed that Kwong Hoi-Ying, Senior Vice CEO of ATV, had interfered with the independence of the news room. On July 6, Kwong had called Tammy Tam Wai-Yee, Vice President of the news department, ordering her to air the death report of Jiang Zemin on that night's evening news bulletin. However, Tam and her senior supervisor, Leung Ka-Wing, the then-Senior Vice President of the News and Public Affairs Department, were unable to verify the information. Leung called Kwong seeking to delay the report until the information could be verified, but Kwong refused and repeatedly urged Leung to air the report as soon as possible. Kwong further reassured Tam and Leung that he and the company would bear any responsibilities for the report.

The Broadcasting Authority stated that ATV was also slow to correct its false report of Jiang's death, failing to retract its report until well after the story had been confirmed as "pure rumour" by state-owned media group, Xinhua, the following day.

Following the Broadcasting Authority's report, on September 5, Leung Ka-Wing announced his resignation. The reason given by Leung for his departure was that he had, "failed to stop that news report [the unconfirmed report of death of Jiang Zemin] from being aired despite my all-out efforts". Tam Wai-Yee also tendered her resignation on the same day, but was later encouraged to take leave.

For airing false news, in breach of the Generic Code of Practice, ATV was fined HK$ 300,000 (approximately US$38,000). Two of ATV's business news programmes were also found in breach of the code. However the broadcasting authority only issued warnings to the company on these matters.

The Hong Kong Legislative Council has also indicated that it will be meeting with the chairperson of the Broadcasting Authority, Kwong and other ATV board members to discuss the matter. ATV's broadcasting license is due for consideration for renewal by the Bureau of Commerce and Economic Development in 2015.

In his comments at the official release of the findings, the Chairperson noted that ATV management was irresponsible in not cooperating fully and providing sufficient evidence to the broadcasting authority's investigative team. It was also noted that Kwong had given inconsistent evidence to the authority when attempting to explain the cause of the incorrect report.

The report made no reference to Wang Zhang, a high profile investor who bought a large number of convertible ATV shares and to whom some had initially attributed the interference, because of his heavy involvement in ATV's activities since March 2010. Ho explained that Wang was not a target of investigation in this report, but that he would be the subject of another report to be announced soon. Ho said there was no evidence to prove Wang was involved in the inaccurate report.

The report failed to reveal the source of the false claim or what measures ATV will be taking to ensure such mistakes are not repeated.

"Editorial independence is fundamentally important for the media," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"It is the media's responsibility to the public to report the news independently and fairly. Without editorial independence, the media loses credibility and the confidence of the public it serves."

The IFJ commends the release of the Broadcasting Authority's independent report, and welcomes the decision by the Hong Kong Legislative Council to investigate further the interference in ATV by senior management.

The IFJ also urges full consideration of theses issue by the Bureau of Commerce and Economic Development, in its decision-making process regarding the renewal of ATV's broadcasting license.

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