MusicDish e-Journal - December 10, 2019
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The Problem With HKTVB And The Hong Kong Music Industry
The Hong Kong music scene is in tatters, it's in its final throes and corrupt to the bone
By Hans Ebert
(more articles from this author)
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Of course, it was only a matter of time before this happened. But the speed in which Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] moved yesterday afternoon to arrest five people including three Senior Executives with leading local terrestrial broadcaster, HKTVB,has set tongues wagging and with quite a few involved in the local entertainment world - and it's a rapidly diminishing one - looking over their shoulders and calling up their accountants regarding off-shore accounts and busy cutting off any "ties that might bind".

Those arrested were top TVB executive and programme host Stephen Chan, TVB programme producer Wilson Chin, TVB artist Ning Jin, TVB's head of business development, Wilson Chan and the rather uniquely named Edthancy Tseng. This person should be arrested for just having that name. Edthancy? Sounds like her [?] parents had a lisp. Edthancy was also Stephen Chan's former assistant and is now director of an advertising and production company. Right. And all of this has a marked bearing on Hong Kong's entertainment and music industry as everything is quite horribly inter-twined.

There's no point in even trying to put a positive spin on it: The Hong Kong music scene is in tatters, it's in its final throes and corrupt to the bone. What's needed is a new broom that can make a clean sweep of things. And if this means starting over by making an example of TVB and putting an end to the modus operandi of some "high ups", so be it. Perhaps this will send a message to a few others that the days of running things Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are dead and gone.

For years - make that decades - TVB, especially its Chinese Channel, TVB Jade, has had a monopoly when it's come to sponsors, events, Hong Kong's various - and far too many - Awards shows, the pick of all local talent and the power to make and break new and even established artists. It was like Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Did the station ever give back anything to Hong Kong? Of course not: They just took and took - hook or by crook. They behaved and still behave like that man-eating plant from "The little Shop Of Horrors" and still scream, "FEEEEEEED MEEEEEEE"!

Their only "competition" - the financially "inferior" ATV - has never been any competition. And today, while TVB is reeling in the wake of this raid, instead of taking a leaf from The Art Of War and knowing your enemy's weaknesses and coming out firing on all cylinders, ATV is bogged down in an ugly public spat amongst its two major shareholders, photographed below, involving - what else? - money - and with there now being new partners from Mainland China. Don't hold your breath that anything will change.

Age is a frame of mind, but, for too long, TVB and ATV have not changed: The former is the bully boy; the latter seems to enjoy being pussy whipped. They look like two old farts suffering from senility and in need of some lethal cocktail of Viagra and Cialis to get things up and moving again.

Like many industries, a fish stinks from the head down and TVB has suffered from "meandering" leadership, simply going with the flow as if nothing ever changes and caught up in the long shadow cast by Mona Fong, former singer and now the all-powerful TVB deputy chairwoman, Director and wife of Sir Run Run Shaw. Complacency is not a good thing for anyone and being "famous" and "well-known" in Hong Kong are nothing to be proud of. Many are "famous" for all the wrong reasons and TVB is one of them. It is a very unlikeable Company that has got away with way too much for way too long. They make Richard Li and his albatross that is PCCW actually likeable.

The four major recording companies recently put their foot down and put their boot in to the station demanding new copyright fees and having a bigger slice of a pie TVB has been munching on for years. Still, TVB refused to budge. They dug their heels in, refused to budge and banned all artists from the four majors being seen - and promoted on the station. The bun fight continues.

Stephan Chan was and is at the centre of this bun fight and, yesterday afternoon, he was marched away from his home in handcuffs. Why? There are a thousand theories and reasons put forward, but when the ICAC - the town's graft busters - come knocking on doors, well, one would think it has to do with allegations and suspicion of graft. And, yes, there are allegations of companies being formed to advertise and promote - and, of course, benefit - from things like personal appearances by various artists. "Those arrested are suspected of obtaining advantages without the authority of TVB", said the South China Morning Post.

Stephen Chan and my paths crossed when he was fighting for The Right Of Abode for Hong Kong people as was I when in advertising. We had an advertising campaign to run and tie-in with the visit to Hong Kong of Sir Geoffrey Howe, the-then Foreign Secretary of Great Britain and Chan was extremely helpful in getting our message out there. Perhaps, he's been too helpful to others.

When his very close amigo and another TVB host - Amigo Choi - was recently arrested for allegedly whacking his girlfriend, Chan leapt to his defense, did some damage control and sent his amigo packing to Haiti as a volunteer to help the victims of the earthquake over there.

Stephen Chan has been like The Scarlet Pimpernel in that he's been and worked everywhere - including the Hong Kong Government, sitting on the Hong Kong Tourism Board and has friends in high places - friends like showbiz kingpin and recording company owner Peter Lam, pictured below, left.

But, say many, Stephen Chan is no friend of Mona Fong and which can make life at TVB very difficult and a bit of a soap opera along the scale of Dynasty. Mona Fong is Alexis Carrington.

I am in the middle of writing a book-cum-musical about the Hong Kong music scene and it ends around the Eighties. This, to me, was when local music died and pariahs and blood suckers moved in and rampant corruption and politics were born and everyone who was somebody was on the receiving end of back-handers.

The more I write and the more I remember, it's sad to think that many who first shaped the Hong Kong music scene and industry are to blame for what has happened to it. If one didn't know any better, one would almost think that they wanted it to fail. Or needed to control it at all times and at all costs.

I guess, coming from poor families and seeing the money to be made after leaving the "ranks" of "amateur musician" and getting "real jobs" and being privy to cheque books and ways of making money on the side came into play. Let's not forget that these were the very early days of the local music industry and things like setting up pressing plants, advertising agencies, using suppliers etc were all virgin territory and many raped and pillaged it.

There have been once lowly-paid record salesmen who, today, have retired on the winnings of their expensive horses. People who quickly set up "advertising agencies" to handle the business of music companies are now in Canada on what they made off. The list of profit centres the music industry opened for people is endless.

Over the years, the stakes have got bigger and bigger and The Greed Factor has become more pronounced. There is nothing wrong with making money. And if one can get away with making money by stiffing people and have the conscience to live with that, fine.

Call me old-fashioned and idealistic, but I still believe in words like "karma" - and also enjoy a good korma - and would prefer if everyone dealt from the top of the deck. But we all know, this is wishful thinking. Bad karma, however, has come back to dog Hong Kong and the Hong Kong music industry very badly in the past 2-3 years.

Hong Kong has an extremely unpopular Chief Executive who has bananas thrown at him.

Many in the music industry are looked upon as jokes, or, are completely ignored. "Edisongate" made a mockery of the squeaky clean image of virgin-like Hello Kitty girls and boys. "Les Galleries de Edison" revealed that beneath those freshly-scrubbed looks and Hello Kitty smiles were "stars" a few notches above pseudo-models.

Then there came the various drug busts of more local Hello Kittys and fights between other Hello Kittys. The bigger Hello Kittys were talking more about their wealth and houses and cars than their music. It was "Living With The Kardashians", Hong Kong-style, and local versions of Bernie Madoff. And they have made off with plenty.

On the business side of things, senior executives from such bastions of public morality as the government-funded radio station, RTHK, were caught with their pants down and trying to escape from the local paparazzi - drunk and with escorts in tow. Someone "very high up" had, so one is told, put out a "contract" to embarrass a few people and show them up as not the god-fearing "family men" they pretended to be. Of course, these were the LOUDEST secrets for many years. Why, it was chosen to have these revealed when they did, has, again, been the cause of much debate.

Hong Kong is a very small place made up of small fish swimming in a very big and public pond. Everyone knows something and even if they don't, they'll make it up. Hidden agendas rarely stay hidden for long.

Right now, Hong Kong needs a new lifeline. And a new Chief Executive who won't have bananas thrown at him. The Hong Kong entertainment world needs a facelift. The Hong Kong music industry needs a miracle.

Canto-Pop is falling on deaf ears. The same old "new" acts go from label to label shopping their wares and selling them to the highest bidder. Can you think of even one really good new local artist? Khalil Fong? By local standards, maybe. The rest is all cookie-cutter fluff with no flavouring.

Is there even one good local A&R person? Or one good songwriter other than Mark Lui and his sausage factory? Or one head of a local recording company who really knows what they're doing? Of course not. There are only some headless chickens running around being busy and delivering nothing. If there were such creatures as mentioned earlier, there would be a thriving industry. But Control and Corruption have kept out those who could have brought about Change. It's elementary, dear Watson.

Meanwhile, those who, perhaps, only perhaps, could make a difference and "give back" to Hong Kong are now rubbishing and lap sapping it and have moved base to the Mainland. Then again, perhaps they have "lost it", anyway and are now only going through the motions.

There is no pride of "ownership" and Hong Kong is, sadly, "old news" and has been discarded like some mistress who has served her purpose. The sugar daddies have moved on to greener pastures to feast on fresh dim sum.

How does Hong Kong get back on track? When it comes to the city, I have no idea. While Donald Tsang continues to be Chief Executive nothing will change. His cronies are even more useless. Last week, acting Chief Executive Henry Tang, below, had a shoe thrown at him. They should just save the shoes and just throw them all out.

As for the music industry, well, there really is none today. Not really. Singapore has a more creative and thriving entertainment industry and which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Also, venues like the Power Station, the efforts of the Singapore Government to turn the city into a global media hub, the powerhouse that is Mediacorp, the creativity of its bars and restaurants and clubs are all contributing to the well-being of its music industry.

On top of this, add in the new casinos that are opening up on Sentosa, the success of Singapore horse racing at the Kranji racecourse , events like the Singapore Grand Prix, the benefits of working with the EDB - the Economic Development Board etc.

Singapore has a brilliant support system in place, thanks to the Government. Sure, sure, it's all "robotic" and a bit "la la" but it's working. And contrary to what some might think, Singapore is not the least bit prudish.

Hong Kong? What does it have? CreateHK and InvestHK? Is there anybody "home" at either of these organizations? Does anyone know what they really do to support the arts?

Perhaps this news about HKTVB can be the first in series of positive moves. It's time to get rid of the dead weight and the lo bans and tai lohs. Or just leave them to be sugar daddies and legends in their own lunch times.

What Hong Kong desperately needs are people with a new and more International mindset. Going "local" has not worked as it has become more about "going loco".

If Hong Kong is still to be seen as an "International city" it needs to be run like one. It cannot say one thing and do another. That's what many running the music industry out here do. Which is why there is no industry?

Also, no one is irreplaceable: No hits then leave. And close the door behind you. Now, where's that new broom?

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