(Bloomberg) -- One of Hong Kong’s leading broadcasters stopped carrying a current affairs program after regulators overturned a 30-year requirement to run public television shows, generating criticism of the station from some pro-democracy groups.Hong Kong’s Communications Authority said this week that local broadcasters with free TV licenses no longer have to air programs from government-funded RTHK, following a request submitted by Television Broadcasts Ltd. on Jan. 9 that followed prior applications.TVB subsequently dropped programs from RTHK including “Headliner” and “Legco Review,” about the city’s legislature. The requirement had dated back to 1990, when RTHK didn’t operate its own TV channels. Now it operates three channels that are accessible by 99% of the public.TVB said in an email to Bloomberg that it had repeatedly applied to regulators to exit the requirement since 2016, calling it “outdated” and “sheer duplication” as RTHK could also broadcast the programs. It planned to use the freed air time to extend its “News at 6:30” show by 30 minutes. TVB director Allan Zeman told Bloomberg by phone Friday that the broadcaster has wanted to drop programs from RTHK to create space for its own ads and revenue-generating programming.Still, some pro-democracy groups said TVB was bowing to political pressure and that Beijing is seeking to limit the dissent that fueled months of often-violent protests in the city against China’s grip -- an allegation the broadcaster denies.Program complaints“Headliner” sparked protests from some groups supporting Hong Kong police after a Feb. 14 episode jokingly implied that cops could more easily get protective gear than other officials, including medical staff. Police Chief Chris Tang said he complained to RTHK and the Communications Authority and expressed regret that the program “ridiculed” cops. The government said it received more than 200 complaints about the program.TVB became a prime target last year during months of protests, accused in forums run by the leaderless pro-democracy movement of biased coverage that focused on the costs of the demonstrations. There was also criticism in the forums that TVB downplayed outrage over the government’s extradition bill, which first sparked the demonstrations, and police aggression in dispersing rallies.TVB denied bias in the face of thousands of complaints made to the communications authority by members of the public over the station’s protest coverage in June of last year. The regulator found the claims were unsubstantiated.“Our coverage of the protests were fair and balanced, giving viewers an even-handed account of events,” TVB said in the email.The removal of the satire program has revived divisions between protesters and supporters of TVB, whose broadcasts reach most Hong Kongers. The Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, a political party, said that free speech in the city is being eroded.“TVB can only say things which Beijing likes,” said Kalvin Ho, association vice chairman, adding that the company should keep airing RTHK shows since that had been a condition for getting a free broadcasting license.Petitions submittedPro-democracy groups held demonstrations on March 4 at the Communications Authority office and submitted petitions opposing the decision to let TVB drop the RTHK programming. Protesters called for a boycott of TVB and mocked the broadcaster as “CCTV-B,” a pun referencing the mainland’s state-owned China Central Television.Meanwhile, a group of TVB backers, called the Public Broadcaster Concern Group, held a demonstration outside RTHK’s offices on the same day accusing the station of bias. Local media reported earlier that RTHK said it understood the hard work of the police and that “Headliner” simply offered a satirical perspective.TVB’s vice chairman Li Ruigang is known as the “Rupert Murdoch of China” for his sprawling media empire. A former Communist Party official in Shanghai, he has been criticized by press freedom advocates including Reporters Without Borders who say Beijing has sway over the station. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent through his CMC Capital Group.Li was named chairman of TVB’s executive committee last month following the resignation of Charles Chan from the board. Chan stepped down after the group said in December it would cut 350 people, about 10% of staff, amid a business downturn.(Corrects story originally published March 6 to include additional comment from TVB throughout, as well as greater context concerning TVB’s requests to regulator dating back to 2016 in fourth paragraph and a clearer explanation of the basis behind protests against stations in paragraphs 12 and 13. Adds specifics on criticism of TVB in paragraphs seven and 11. Bloomberg News regrets that the original version of this article did not meet our editorial standards.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.