ATV - Asia Television Limited

Consultation possible on ATV shares

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am

Sale of stake to mainland company has prompted concerns about independence

The Broadcasting Authority may hold its first public consultation on a terrestrial TV station's change of shareholding.

The suggestion was made at yesterday's Legislative Council panel on information technology and broadcasting when legislators expressed concern over ATV's recently announced deal with mainland corporation Citic Guoan Group.

Last month, ATV announced it would sell 22 per cent of its shares to the company.

But the Broadcasting Ordinance restricts the influence and control of the licensee of a domestic free television service to those 'ordinarily residing in Hong Kong'.

This means a licensee must live in Hong Kong for not less than 180 days in any calendar year, or the majority of its directors must have been living in Hong Kong for more than seven years. The control and management of the company must be exercised in Hong Kong.

According to a spokeswoman for the authority, the deal between ATV and Citic Guoan Group could be concluded only with the written approval of the Broadcasting Authority, which received an initial application from ATV on June 3.

Speaking at the panel meeting, Lorna Wong Lung-shi, principal executive officer of the Broadcasting Authority, said by law, the authority was not required to hold a public consultation on its approval of the share transaction.

'But in principle it's possible,' she said. However, any decision on a public consultation could be made only after the authority obtained further information from ATV.

Legislators expressed concern the possible share transfer could influence ATV's editorial independence and the direction of its programming.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah said if a local media company was owned by a mainland entity, the international community might get the impression the Hong Kong media was being controlled by the state, affecting Hong Kong's image as a city that upheld freedom of speech.

ATV programme and external affairs senior vice-president Kwong Hoi-ying insisted the potential capital brought by Citic Guoan Group would help the station prepare for digital terrestrial broadcasting, to be launched next year.

Mr Kwong insisted the injection of mainland capital would not affect the station's editorial independence and that the station would not adjust its direction to accommodate the mainland market.

'Hong Kong is still our major market. We will never adjust the programmes to fit in the mainland standard,' he told the panel.

The Chief Executive-in-Council last month approved the controversial ownership of ATV but backdated it only to June 2 last year, even though the acquisition took place six years ago.

The Broadcasting Authority said it had not yet decided how to penalise ATV for violating the Broadcasting Ordinance by having nine 'disqualified' controllers before June 2, 2005, including Phoenix Satellite Television boss Liu Changle. The ordinance prohibits the owners of one broadcasting entity taking control of another.