Donald Tsang

Public broadcast discussion delay surprises lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 January, 2008, 12:00am

Sensitivity, complexity reason for postponement, says Tsang

The government will postpone the release of a consultation paper on public service broadcasting, because the issue is 'sensitive and complex'.

The delay, revealed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen yesterday, surprised lawmakers who were due to discuss the paper at the end of this month.

Asked by Democrat legislator Cheung Man-kwong whether the government would release the paper on the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting meeting on January 29 as planned, Mr Tsang said: 'I need to seriously consider the matter. Currently, I have no plan to do so.'

A government source said the delay was mainly due to internal controversy over arrangements for RTHK staff, as the government was considering disbanding it and setting up a new public service broadcaster.

Albert Cheng King-hon, chairman of the Legco panel on information technology and broadcasting, said he had not been informed of the move and was very surprised to hear the chief executive's announcement.

Panel deputy chairman Sin Chung-kai said the delay was a political decision, made over fears the Citizens' Radio illegal broadcasting court case might spark public calls for the opening up of the airwaves.

RTHK has about 780 staff, of whom a third are civil servants.

According to sources, options include terminating their civil servant status with substantial compensation, and redeploying them to the new broadcaster.

But the sources said the administration also wanted to give any new broadcaster flexibility to hire its own staff.

Compensation could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the Legislative Council, Mr Tsang argued that there was no urgency for the review of public service broadcasting, and the government needed more time to consider it. 'It is a sensitive and very complex issue,' the chief executive said.

'It has to be handled cautiously, and in fact, no one wants me to do it immediately.'

He did not spell out a new timetable for consultations but sources said a paper would not be released in the first quarter of this year.

The decision to delay the consultation came after a meeting among top government officials chaired by Mr Tsang yesterday. Further discussion on controversial issues in the paper will be held today at a meeting hosted by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma Si-hang.

Sources said related papers would be released after the health-care financing consultation paper was made public, expected next month. Mr Tsang told legislators he hoped the health-care financing consultation would occur this year.

The administration, which earlier set mid-January as the date for the health-care consultation, was open to various proposed medical funding models and would not recommend any particular one now.