Democrats criticise lack of public views on broadcasting bill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2009, 12:00am

The Democratic Party yesterday criticised the government for pushing ahead with legislation on broadcasting licensing without the normal consultation process.

The party warned that the lack of consultation would make the proposed bill amendment prone to legal challenges in future.

The government gazetted a proposal earlier this month to amend the controversial Telecommunications Ordinance, listing criteria under which licences could be granted for sound broadcasting services. These include financial soundness and commitment to investment; managerial and technical expertise; programme variety, quantity and quality; technical soundness and quality; speed of service roll-out; benefits to the local broadcasting industry, the audience and the community as a whole; quality control and compliance capability; and fit and proper personality.

And the amendment is expected to be introduced to the bills committee at the Legislative Council for deliberation in October - soon after the council's summer break.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, who is also a vice-chairman of the Legco panel on information technology and broadcasting, said the government's attempt to push the bill through was rash.

'The government has never conducted public consultations on this important issue, or revealed its intention of amending the ordinance to the panel before. Such practice is unthinkable,' Mr Lee said.

The proposed amendment came weeks after lawyers representing various public figures, including six lawmakers and veteran democracy activist Szeto Wah - who have been charged with 'delivering messages for transmission by unlicensed means of telecommunications' on an unlicensed broadcast by Citizens' Radio - indicated that they would challenge the charge as unconstitutional.

The ordinance has been criticised as granting the chief executive unfettered power to control who may be awarded a broadcasting licence. However, a spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said yesterday: 'We believe that this approach is straightforward and it will provide an appropriate opportunity to ensure that Legislative Council members can voice their views on the guidelines during the bills committee,' the spokesman said. But Ms Lau said the amendment would only reinforce restraint on free speech.