"Good Money Driven out by Bad": Sacked Investigative Veteran in Cable NewsWritten by Cheng Sze-sze; printed and translated (partly) on 6 Dec 2020
40 newsroom staff at Cable News were laid off last week, including all 3 reporters working for the popular News Lancet programme, known for its investigative journalism and in-depth coverage of current affairs. One China news veteran was also laid off, which triggered all 10 of her teammates resigned in solidarity.
Some said that the media industry had never united to fight for rights and interests, but one day, when they really made their stance clear, they still could not change the results. Reporters might not have achieved the desired results, but at least they upheld dignity.
On the day of execution, the management blamed the reporters for filming the scene where the staff demanded a reasonable explanation. An assignment editor said, "It is regrettable that this is how we can communicate with you. The sacking decision is now known to the public and the perception to the outside is really bad. I am heartbroken for Cable TV." One of the most heartbreaking scene was Yeung Leung-kit, the principal reporter of News Lancet leaving with his belongings in silence. He was the reporter who won the most awards for Cable News, who made his name known in the investigative news report sector, and the good money driven out by the bad in this era. I asked him to write an article about News Lancet, but he said it is too hard to summarise everything down to a piece of article, so here I am, writing reluctantly. Declaration: The programme began in May 2013, and a colleague and I were responsible for the first story.
News Lancet was a programme developed by then news controller William Fung. With the same resources, he cut the old feature programme and turned it into a new investigative programme. Yeung was just a "kid" in 2013 as he graduated 3 years ago. He said most of his feature stories at the beginning were following what others have followed, and he did not know much about the essence of news. Suddenly he was transferred to follow the news controller to write news stories. "I am frightened. Fung was famous for being fierce. Every Friday there was a story-selling meeting and Fung will surely ask until you cannot answer. Every week I was under lots of stress, lots of stress, lots of stress (he did repeat it for 3 times). Every Thursday night, insomnia was a matter of course. When Fung was still in place, I had never had a good sleep on Thursday night." That last for a year. Yeung, in my impression, has always been a wonderful genius but I had never imagined he was under such pressure. But anyway, insomnia before meetings with Fung was a collective memory for Cable News reporters.
Yeung Leung-kit, an award-winning investigative reporter of the News Lancet programme, was among the sacked employees. Lancet is a tool to pinch the surface and discover the stories and answers behind it. Investigative report is only one of the tools. His team had reported on a lot of unique topics in a creative way, for example disguising as a mainlander to expose the fake marriage syndicate; discovering that "beef balls" with the strongest beef flavour actually containing no beef; pretending to be the owner of a parallel trading shop to expose the operation behind the parallel trading syndicate; exposing the $150,000 election bribery incident in the District Council [in 2015], which even led to the sentencing of 3 people. Reports also exposed LegCo members receiving degrees from universities that never existed, the suspicious allocation of CSI masks, etc. Many of the investigation reports are rigorous and detailed. Awards won by him are just too many: Cinema/Chicago Television Awards (Gold Plaque - Investigative Reporting/News Documentary), Human Rights Press Awards, Chinese University Journalism Award, Consumer Rights Reporting Awards - to name but a few.
"What makes News Lancet programme different is that it is very down-to-earth", Yeung Leung-kit said. There were always intriguing sound-bites in the programme. "I will look at all the comments on Facebook to think about what attracts viewers, what does not". After a news report, he read over 13,000 comments on Facebook because he wanted to know what part of his work attracted the audience the most.
He worked at Cable News for 10 years, and has seen changes in the senior management and turnover in the team; he was also poached by high salaries many times, but in the end, he decided to stay, but faced with a reduction in bonuses and wages and was put on unpaid leave. "I have been struggling and fighting here, and have never imagined leaving the company like this - immediate dismissal without any prior consultation. When I worked on my stories, I don't want people to spot our company's vehicle and I used mine - I drove my car, I was the cameraman, the driver and the reporter - and I followed Squatters division of Housing Department. The photos on the news showed that I was carrying the carton box with my personal belongings as I left the company. I never imagined this".
The News Lancet team boasted 8 members at its peak but continued to shrink in the past few years. By the dismissal, only Yeung and 2 fresh reporters who joined the team for half a year were there. As they leave Cable News, the only investigative report team on TV marked its end. While other desks also saw many editors and reporters resigning to show solidarity, Yeung thanked them a lot. "We all see this place as our home, but we all knew there was no way of return when we saw how the management communicated with us. The home is no longer there."