Ho yeh, Cantopop's on air

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 November, 1993, 12:00am

CONGRATULATIONS to MTV Asia on finally getting the go-ahead to broadcast in Cantonese. After two years in which it has been allowed to run music videos in any language except the native tongue of its home base, the station has finally had this absurd and damaging restriction lifted.

The episode is a reminder of the fragility of Hong Kong's claim to being a paragon of free competition. From public utilities to the media, protection of favoured companies from domestic competitors has been a hallmark of the territory's particular brandof managed free enterprise.

Now at last, with the arrival of cable TV and the new rules for STAR TV, the terrestrial television stations' duopoly on Cantonese services is at an end. But plans to prevent cross-ownership of media show the Government is as prone to over-regulation as its hidebound counterparts in the West.

It is not the issue of franchises as such which is pernicious, but the attempt to preserve franchisees from competition. Conversely, it is not necessary for governments actively to smash monopolies so that consumers will benefit. Merely opening the market should be enough. If companies are aware poor service will encourage new entrants to the market, they are more likely to clean up their act.

Hongkong Telecom's monopoly on local calls, for instance, does not end until 1995. Their ''customer commitment'' announced yesterday, parsimoniously failed to offer refunds to dissatisfied customers. It would not have been half so niggardly had the monopoly been due to end tomorrow.