Pay-TV 'thieves' face crackdown on tactics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2007, 12:00am

Legislators demand tougher laws to control sales pitches

The government promised yesterday to consider toughening the laws against malpractices by pay-TV and telecommunications operators after lawmakers passed a motion demanding that it crack down on their unscrupulous sales practices.

Democrat legislator Yeung Sum, who put forward the motion, said many of the tactics used to get and keep customers were 'like thieving'.

'It gives the international community a very bad impression,' Dr Yeung said, with particular reference to pay-TV operators.

Supporting the non-binding motion, legislator Wong Kwok-hing said consumer rights, especially among pay-TV users, were being infringed.

'Summing up, people are cheated into signing the contract, find it almost impossible to terminate the service and have no door to knock on when they want to complain,' Mr Wong said.

The vote came a day after the release of results from a Democratic Party survey in which 26 per cent of 1,398 respondents found industry sales tactics misleading and 23.2 per cent said they faced difficulty having services cancelled.

Dr Yeung urged the government to examine an extension of section 7M of the Telecommunications Ordinance, which regulates misleading conduct by telecoms operators, but not pay-TV companies.

'The government should also introduce a cooling-off period, maybe a month after a consumer signs a contract, in a bid to safeguard the rights and interests of consumers,' he said.

Unionist legislator Leung Yiu-chung, of the Neighbourhood and Workers' Service Centre, also was angered by industry sales tactics.

'Some salesmen even cheated customers into signing up for pay-TV by telling them that free television would be unavailable after the government introduces digital and high-definition broadcasting,' he said.

Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan questioned whether the penalties for big companies were high enough and whether it was too easy for management to shift the burden to junior staff.

'I also think the current law on consumer-rights protection is too limited. Our monitoring mechanism is lagging far behind. The government has to offer a holistic approach in order to help protect customers.'

Legislator 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung said the government failed to use current laws to prosecute malpractices by big companies.

'If the government prosecuted these companies, such practices would vanish in no time,' he said.

Mr Leung added that companies pushed their salesmen into using disreputable practices. 'It is impossible that those companies know nothing. What do these salesmen get? They get very little for what they do. Their companies get all the money.'

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted that pay-TV was not governed by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority or by Ofta.

'However, for some of the unscrupulous business practices which can amount to fraud, it is criminal behaviour and they will be prosecuted. Consumers can also bring these companies to the Small Claims Tribunal,' she said.

'We will also amend the existing legislation against pay-TV malpractices after the proposed merger of the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority and Ofta.'

Interim measures like an arbitration mechanism to handle such contract disputes might also be introduced, Mrs Lam said.