HKJA’s Submission on the Review of Public Service Broadcasting

1.) The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) notes with concern the views of the Focus Groups on PSB in relation to the PSB Governance Structure, Accountability Measures, Funding Arrangement and Programming, given at the end of September. There was no reference at all to the importance of editorial independence. The transparency of the nomination process of the members of Board is also questionable.
2.) Before going into the specific issues of the report we suggest that PSB draw up a mission statement that has the status of a legal statement, clearly stating that the role is to uphold the editorial independence and freedom of expression, without any interference by the Government or other vested interests in the PSB’s role of educating, entertaining and informing of the public. This is because the core value of a PSB is freedom of expression and editorial independence. If we are not assured of this basic understanding there can never be an open platform for diversified views and the public will not be fully informed. As defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization a PSB is broadcasting made, financed and controlled by the public for the public. It is neither commercial nor state-owned.
3.) Looking at the contents on the role of the Governing Board, we feel that the most important aspect is upholding the independence and integrity of the public broadcaster. At the same time it should be stated clearly that the directors cannot directly or indirectly intervene and/or participate in the day-to-day operations of the PSB.
4.) On the role of the CEO, we strongly disagree with the proposal that the CEO should also be the Editor-in-Chief. We suggest that the Editor-in-Chief should report to the CEO. But the Editor-in-Chief is responsible for (a) exercising all aspects of day-to-day operations; (b) exercising editorial final decisions independently and (c) staff appointment and reappointment and removal of editorial department.
5.) The CEO would be responsible for (a) implementing the strategies and broad policies determined by the Board; (b) generating income; (c) keeping the Board informed in a timely manner of all issues of strategic importance and (d) staff appointment, reappointment and removal (including approval of the terms of key senior staff by the Board) of the administrative and marketing departments.
6.) On the nomination of the Board members, we strongly believe that since PSB is for the whole community, no member of the Board should be nominated by the CE. The nomination process should be as transparent as possible so that the nomination committee is fully accountable to the public. For individual candidates, we urge that their names should be disclosed to underscore the public accountability of their tenure. At the same time we suggest that there be an open forum for the public to question the final candidates who are going to be selected by the CE. We believe that this process will ensure that the selected members of the Board are really capable of performing the required tasks.
7.) As for the provisional nomination committee we suggest that it should comprise of 3 to 5 persons. Ideally these would be drawn from the field of media education. When the nomination committee or the Board selects the experts the basis of selection should be in relation to the principle of the mission statement as well as on expertise and experience.
8.) As for the composition of the Board we strongly believe that it should truly reflect different sectors’ interest rather than merely focusing on the interest of minorities or elites. We suggest, therefore, that the composition of the Board should have seats reserved for different categories i.e. experience in journalism, etc.
9.) On the Accountability Measures we agree with the main theme of the report. However, we believe that the external assessors of the internal accountability measures should be genuinely independent assessors without any direct or indirect political affiliations.
10.) On the Financial Arrangement, the most crucial point is the funding cycle which we strongly suggest should be based on a 5 year budgetary cycle rather than a 3 year term to allow for flexibility in financial planning and reduce exposure to political and financial pressures.
11.) At the same time we believe that the 20% target within a 10-year time frame is difficult to achieve. We believe that either the percentage should be decreased or the time frame extended.
12.) Finally, in respect of other sources of revenue to secure the independence of the editorial management, we strongly suggest drawing up guidelines on sponsorships and donations to make clear that such funding shall not be subject to any conditions and shall be allocated a fixed time frame or programmes for which to the donation or sponsorship has made.
13.) Hong Kong Journalists Association holds the view that diversity is the basis for freedom. This is our unwavering stand. We would, therefore, keep pressing the Government to allocate television channels and radio frequencies for the public to air their views. It is a source of continuing regret that this suggestion has never been realized nor even included in the report. We, therefore, urge the Government to take this opportunity to honour its promise which was expressed before 1995.
HKJA Executive Committee
October 13th, 2006


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