Two executives in the news department at one of Hong Kong’s largest television broadcasters submitted their resignations recently, after, in early July, allowing the broadcast of the apparently incorrect news that former Chinese communist leader Jiang Zemin had died.
Leung Ka-wing, Senior Vice President, and Tammy Tam, Vice President, both in the news department of Asia Television, made their resignations public on Sept. 5.
Leung announced his resignation to his subordinates through telephone, reportedly saying that he quit because he was unable, despite doing all he could, to block a report about Jiang Zemin’s apparent death.
Since he was effectively head of the news department and still unable to prevent the news from being reported, Hong Kong residents have been concerned about the autonomy of Asia Television Limited.
It is thought that the order to broadcast that news came from Wang Zheng, a majority owner of the TV channel, who should theoretically not be able to influence editorial decisions—and certainly not to such a degree as reported in this case.
On July 6 ATV had in its Six O’Clock News Report first reported that former Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin had died. The news was quickly picked up by international media, though Party authorities did not provide an official statement until 18 hours later, denying the rumor.
Mainland Chinese had by then already started setting off fire-crackers in celebration of the death of Jiang, who is despised by many on the mainland for his crony capitalist politics and the costly and brutal persecution of Falun Gong that he launched in 1999.
ATV later retracted their initial report. Insiders said that Wang Zheng, owner of the TV channel, ordered the broadcast. He insisted that he had nothing to do with the event.
But the free speech antennae of Hong Kong’s legislative members had already been aroused. On Sept. 6, Emily Lau, Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, demanded Tsang Yam-kuen, Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of the Government of Hong Kong, to conduct an official investigation and examine how seriously the top administrative level of ATV had interfered with the autonomy of its news department.
To Yiu-ming, Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that the administrative division of ATV should not be allowed to dictate the news reported by the news department, especially over the objections of news executives.
Hong Kong broadcasting authorities are now reportedly investigating Wang Zheng’s role in the operation of the ATV, including his specific role in the reporting of Jiang’s death.