Hong Kong's broadcasting regulator has slapped a TV station with a record fine following an investigation into a false news report on the death of retired Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
The Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority said Monday that broadcaster ATV should be fined 300,000 Hong Kong dollars ($38,600) for failing to verify the accuracy of the July 6 report, which drew 45 complaints, and not acting quickly enough to retract it.
ATV broadcast its report amid a flurry of speculation that Jiang had died or was close to death, fueled by his failure to appear a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party's founding.
In response, the official Xinhua News Agency published a brief report the next day quoting what it called authoritative sources as saying the reports were "pure rumor." Four hours later, ATV retracted the story and apologized to its audience, Jiang and his family.
The broadcasting watchdog's report lambasted the station's management for being "totally irresponsible" in replying to its inquiries.
The probe found that a senior executive told the news department's two top executives he had "received reliable information" about Jiang's death and ordered them to report it on the evening news. But the news executives, who have since resigned, were reluctant because they could not confirm it themselves.
The investigation did not look into who the source was.
Jiang led China for a dozen years until handing power to President Hu Jintao in 2002. Rumors about his health were suppressed in mainland China but widely reported in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory that enjoys Western-style civil liberties including freedom of speech.