Hong Kong TV Channels Follow China and Cancel Oscar Broadcast Plans

Better Days
Goodfellas Films, Fat Kids Production

In the year that Hong Kong has achieved an Academy Awards nomination for “Better Days,” the territory’s leading free-to-air TV network Television Broadcasts (TVB) will be dropping television coverage of the Oscars ceremony.

The network Monday confirmed that it did not have rights to broadcast the show this year. “It was purely a commercial decision,” said a company spokesman. TVB has carried the show every year since 1969 on its Pearl English-language channel.

Other television stations in the territory, including PCCW’s pay-TV channel NowTV and its free-to-air channel ViuTV told Variety that they had not picked up the rights in TVB’s place. Cable TV and Open TV are also reported to have chosen not to.

Earlier this month Chinese government authorities are understood to have issued instructions to all media in the mainland not to broadcast the Oscars ceremony live and to play down its significance. They object to the nomination of Anders Hammer’s “Do Not Split,” a 35-minute film about the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, in the Academy Awards documentary short film section.

Mainland Chinese media has also been busily playing down the multiple Oscar nominations achieved by “Nomadland,” directed by China-born Chloe Zhao. She has been accused of disloyalty to the country after netizens dug up two interviews in which she made unflattering comments about China.

It is not clear how TVB arrived at its commercial decision. The company is one of many media in Hong Kong which now have substantial mainland Chinese ownership. It is effectively controlled by Li Ruigang, head of mainland holding company China Media Capital, who is also TVB’s vice chairman. A risk assessment weighing up its exposure to prosecution may have arrived at the same conclusion.

Propaganda Department instructions to mainland media have not previously applied to Hong Kong, where its mini-constitution known as the Basic Law guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, since the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong in June last year local media has grown increasingly wary of saying or doing anything to anger Beijing.

In an unprecedented move in February, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK in February aped the instructions from Beijing for BBC World Service television to be barred from the mainland, as punishment for its coverage of Xinjiang and the coronavirus. Within 48 hours of the order, RTHK ceased retransmission in Hong Kong of BBC World Service radio. On Monday, RTHK confirmed that it had dropped an episode of documentary series “Hong Kong Connection” which focused on issues facing student unions. The show was to have have aired later today.

Not covering the Oscars will mean reduced exposure for “Better Days,” a powerful youth drama film that is set in mainland China but was pitched by Hong Kong as its foreign film candidate. The film is directed by Hong Kong-born Derek Tsang, son of Eric Tsang, the well-known film maker and actor who was recently appointed as TVB’s deputy general manager. It is the first time that Hong Kong has received a nomination in the category since 1993.

Cinemas in Hong Kong are to be allowed to increase their seating capacity from 50% to 75% from April 1, as coronavirus infections in the city wane. Hong Kong reported no instances of local transmission over the weekend and one on Monday, though there have been examples of imported cases.