Law controlling broadcasting licences faces another challenge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 June, 2009, 12:00am

The controversial Telecommunications Ordinance, criticised as granting the chief executive unfettered power to control who may be awarded a broadcasting licence, will be subject to another constitutional challenge in September.

Lawyers representing various public figures who have been charged with 'delivering messages for transmission by unlicensed means of telecommunications' - a consequence of appearing as guests on an unlicensed broadcast by Citizens' Radio - indicated in Eastern Court yesterday that they would challenge the charges as unconstitutional. The section that will be challenged is different from the section Citizens' Radio challenged in its last round of legal battles.

Those charged include six current lawmakers, one former lawmaker and a district councillor from the pan-democratic camp as well as veteran democracy activist Szeto Wah.

Their trial is scheduled to start on September 28.

In relation to charges against the administrators of Citizen's Radio of establishing a means to broadcast without a licence, Magistrate Douglas Yau Tak-hong ruled on January 8 last year that the radio-licensing regime was unconstitutional because the chief executive, who was not an independent body, had unfettered power to decide on applications for a broadcaster's licence.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled in December that the constitutionality of the licensing regime was not the 'necessary ingredient of the offence' of unlicensed broadcasting and the relevant offence provision was 'self-standing and lawful'.

A trial of those defendants, who include Eastern District councillor Tsang Kin-shing and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, will resume on September 14.

On April 20 last year, lawmakers including Lee Wing-tat, Emily Lau Wai-hing, Albert Chan Wai-yip and Lee Cheuk-yan, as well as Szeto Wah, appeared on a Citizens' Radio programme broadcast from the pedestrian precinct in Mong Kok.

They have all been charged with the offence of 'delivering messages for transmission' through an unlawful broadcast based on a section of the Telecommunications Ordinance that is different from the section used to charge those who set up the broadcast.

Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, who was not at the broadcast but is helping with their case, said the criminalisation of merely expressing opinions on a broadcast was a disproportionate restraint on free speech.