Hong Kong’s biggest free-to-air television broadcaster, TVB, has filed a police report alleging cyberbullying at the hands of internet users it says launched an online smear campaign against the station, its advertisers and artists.
In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, TVB decried what it called the “harassment, molestation, pestering, threats and intimidation” employed in attempting to launch a boycott of the broadcaster and those buying ad time on it.
“This cyberbullying behaviour may cause psychological or property damage to these parties and subsequently lead to social unrest,” it said without disclosing the specifics of the report.
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“To protect TVB and our advertisers, as well as to stop indiscriminate cyberbullying, TVB filed a report to the police in the morning.”
A police source confirmed the report had been filed, saying the acts in question followed Citibank’s sponsoring of a concert by Canto-pop singer Hubert Wu on November 26 and 27 and placing advertisements on the station.
“Some netizens then made an online appeal to boycott the concert and posted threatening messages on the internet,” the source said.
He said officers from the force’s cyber security and technology crime bureau had launched an investigation.
The broadcaster reiterated its “zero tolerance” policy against cyberbullying, saying it had a responsibility to maintain social stability.
“As one of the largest broadcasters in Hong Kong, TVB reaffirms our responsibilities in maintaining social stability and harmony and ensuring public safety with law enforcement agencies and the general public,” the statement said.
TVB has previously accused its critics of cyberbullying and driving advertisers away with threats to boycott their products or brands. There is currently no law in Hong Kong against boycotts.
The station has been struggling with plummeting advertising revenue and viewership in recent years, with the Covid-19 pandemic piling onto its troubles from the social unrest of 2019.
Some observers have said the station’s woes were the result of becoming out of touch with younger viewers.
In August, TVB chairman Thomas Hui To admitted the boycott campaigns had affected advertising revenue, although he could not give an estimate of how much it had cost the station.
It posted a net loss of HK$284 million (US$36.5 million) for the first half of this year, compared with losses of HK$281 million for the whole of 2020 and HK$295 million in 2019.
In July, Hong Kong police arrested an 18-year-old student suspected of criminal intimidation for posting online messages that allegedly encouraged people to blacklist and boycott more than 100 TVB advertisers.
Police said the suspect had been posting messages in a Facebook group since May last year in an attempt to hurt the broadcaster’s reputation and revenue.
The teenager – who was the Facebook group’s administrator – also urged people to post “angry face” emojis on the websites of the station and its advertisers, a police source said.
No charges were filed and he was released without condition.