【Folklorist Studies of Films 36】Lau Tin-chi:Political Involvement, Allusion and Censorship

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By Lau Tin-chi. Translated by Chapman Chen

Question: When you conceived the characters and plot of a tv play, did you ever deliberately allude to a certain political figure? Did you talk it over with that political figure?

Answer: Whether it’s before or after 1997, Hong Kong mass media has never been able to really remain politically neutral, under the written and unwritten conditions of license issue. This is based on the profit-making nature of investors. The colonial government strictly protected the British Royalty, the regime of British Government, and the colonial government. Investors of “household” digital media were all screened. Thus, the Government could be criticized for mistakes in its everyday administration but the prestige of the colonial authority and the suzerain could never be undermined.

”Political figures” refers to power wielders on the top level, like Governor, Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary, Attorney General, Chief Justice, Commissioner of Police, etc., who all had to be “respected.” In other words, the mass media would exercise self censorship and refrain from messing with them. As for political figures in neighbouring regions, they would sometimes be ridiculed a bit. Since that’s a kind of taboo, how could we talk it over with them? It would be too much a favour to members of today’s Executive Council, Legislative Council and District Board to say that they are political figures. They are probably not those who really have power!

Question: Were frames, characters and plots subject to restriction by the management of the TV station?

Answer: Generally speaking, when I worked in TVB, the senior management of digital media (general managers and above and investors) did not rashly order restriction of creation and production, including script writing, filming, montage, dubbing, etc. The Government had already issued the Generic Code of Practice on Television Programme Standards, and the production staff had the traditional professional code of practice to follow. Based on the above documents and unwritten rules, everybody was supposed to know how to process contents and characters.

The program department of TVB had and still has a broadcasting code of practice monitor. When this monitor group was first set up, the objective was to strictly implement the undertakings of the bidder when issued a license by the Government, and to make sure that the established code of practice was followed, rather than to restrict freedom of speech or exercise political censorship. It mostly kept the limit of violence and sex.

Sometimes, it would also adopt an extremely conservative attitude in respect of mentality. Nonetheless, the director of production could retort, appeal, adjust and review based on the will of the producing staff (the above refers to the situation of TVB from the 1980s to the 1990s).

Question: Since Hong Kong political environment is in an unclear situation, would TV drama become more and more politicized as a result?

Answer: “Politicized” is a rather ambiguous term. How may it be understood? If HKTV’s The Election draws a large audience, then investors will be interested in taking a share of this kind of soap opera. Does TVB’s When Heaven Burns have political allusions? Anyway, when this serial was banned in China, investors would carefully consider reasons why it was banned.

Businessmen, after all, have to care about business, whereas producers, playwrights, and directors desire to see all flowers blooming together, all restrictions relaxed, so that they can have enough place for their imagination to gallop. They would also like to be supported by investors and the Government so that any creative idea of theirs can be given full play to. This is a dream difficult to realize but worthwhile having.


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