Business as usual despite pirate TV blackout bid

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2002, 12:00am

Dealers in unlicensed satellite dishes and decoders continued trading yesterday despite a lawsuit being brought against them by six pay-TV channels.

Star TV, CNN, the Turner Entertainment Network, ESPN Star Sports, Discovery and NGC Network have filed a writ against five companies for allegedly importing and trading in unlicensed satellite signal decoders.

Yesterday, JP Technology and Tongyong Youhe, two of the five firms named in the writ, were still selling dishes and decoders designed to pick up networks broadcast from countries such as Thailand and the Philippines.

The manager of Tongyong Youhe insisted his business was perfectly legal. He said the pay TV channels were using expensive legal means to crush small satellite TV companies.

'We don't have $10 million to wage legal battles with these big companies. They can crush us like a big boulder crushing crabs,' he said.

'If they win, all satellite companies in Hong Kong will have to go underground. Nobody will open shops publicly, but people will continue to [supply decoders] in secret.'

The pay TV channels are seeking damages from the decoder dealers as well as injunctions to halt the activities of the companies.

The manager of Tongyong Youhe, who declined to give his name, said all equipment sold had been licensed by the Telecommunications Authority.

'We don't provide movie or football programmes ourselves. The decoders and smart cards are bought legally and we have never tampered with them. All the subscription money goes to the TV stations, not to us.

'We just provide installation and maintenance. That is legal.'

A saleswoman with Sai Kung-based JP Technology said her company offered several packages. 'You can watch Viva Cinema [a pay channel in the Philippines], Star Mandarin movies, Star movies and all major European football games through our disks,' she said.

The six pay-TV channels insisted they would pursue their case against the companies.

A spokesman for ESPN said the illegal business had infringed on the company's broadcasting rights in the region.

'Unless it is specifically licensed by us, all ESPN sports programmes in Hong Kong must be carried by Cable TV,' he said.

An insider in the pay-TV business said if the pay channels won the case, it would be illegal for homes and bars to continue using unlicensed decoders.

However, he conceded it would be difficult for the pay channels to stop the practice.

'We sell our programmes to the TV stations, and the stations sell the decoders and smart cards to customers.

'We don't own the decoders and smart cards. It would be up to the stations to block the illegal users,' he said.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of commerce, industry and technology said under the present law, it was legal to install or hire people to install satellite dishes to pick up TV signals that were not coded. She said the public should only watch pay TV channels on licensed TV stations.