【明報專訊】THE COMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY has ruled that TVB abused its dominant position and violated the competition provisions of the Broadcasting Ordinance, and fined the TV station $900,000.
The Communications Authority found that over the period from 2007 to 2010, around 90 per cent of Hong Kong singers were on a contract with TVB. Apart from full-time contracts, singers and artists also entered into one-show contracts, serial-based contracts and singer contracts with TVB, and under these three types of contract they were only in a temporary working relationship with the TV station. Nevertheless, they were constrained by the contracts' "exclusive clauses", and strict restrictions were placed on their appearing on other TV channels.
These contracts stipulated that these artists and singers could not take part in promotional activities organised by other TV stations. They could not use their own voices nor speak in Cantonese when appearing on other TV channels. As a result they all had to speak in broken Putonghua. And, if they took part in a TV drama not produced by TVB, their voices had to be dubbed over before the drama could be broadcast in Hong Kong. The anomaly of Hong Kong's TV industry is a strange sight to behold.
Furthermore, if these artists and singers wanted to undertake outside work, they had to obtain TVB's consent first. The Communications Authority takes the view that such "exclusive clauses" had the purpose and effect of preventing TVB's rivals from hiring the artists and singers. Though signed by mutual consent, these contracts violated the competition provisions of the Broadcasting Ordinance. The Communications Authority therefore ordered that TVB pay a fine and immediately bring to an end the infringement.
The contracts TVB signed with artists and singers were so unfair and harsh that they were, strictly speaking, "unequal treaties". Such a situation definitely has to do with the ecology of the free-to-air TV industry. Now that the Communications Authority has ordered TVB to stop making these unequal contracts, will these singers and artists be liberated from the unfair situation? It doesn't seem to be the case. As long as the free-to-air TV ecology remains unchanged and ATV remains as good as dead, TVB's hegemony will still be solid as a rock. Artists and singers, even if their contracts no longer contain the unfair terms, will be in an essentially similar relationship with TVB - unless they take their popularity as immaterial. For TV stations have a lot of ways of bringing artists and singers under control and making them follow their orders, and contracts are merely one of them.
It is only by opening up the free-to-air TV market and introducing competition that TVB's virtual monopoly can be broken up. However, over the matter of issuing new free-to-air TV licences, the government has been dawdling. Whenever he is asked about this, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung will just say that the Executive Council is dealing with the issue and that an announcement will be made if there is any progress. It was the government's policy to issue new TV licences, but the matter now seems to be left unsettled. The government cannot possibly shift the blame now that the free-to-air TV industry is rotten. Obviously it knows that only real competition can shatter a TV station's monopoly. But it has chosen not to take action. The government's attitude is really baffling.