Stone Age broadcasting laws in a digital world
Officials like commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung want us to think the granting of radio and television licences is purely a policy matter, not politics. Rules and procedures are in place to ensure fairness and to serve the public interest. Who is he kidding?
Allowing more or fewer stations by controlling the number of licences granted is inherently a political decision. Who gets to broadcast what content in which medium has political implications.
Our telecommuncation laws date back to the Stone Age and have proved inadequate in radio and television broadcasting. On Tuesday, the government lost its case against five pan-democrats who took part in a broadcast by the unlicensed Citizens' Radio back in 2008. Meanwhile, it is under mounting pressure to explain why it still can't make up its mind after almost three years on whether to grant more television licenses.
Lawmakers Wong Yuk-man, Emily Lau Wai-hing, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Chan Wai-yip, and former legislator Lee Wing-tat were originally fined HK$1,000 each for taking part in the unauthorised political broadcast.
Their show protested against the government delay in reviewing the Telecommunications Ordinance to allow more radio stations to operate. Indeed, the law has been rendered out of date by technology. It's arbitrary because the group could have broadcast using internet radio or other web-based equipment and it would have been completely legal.
Meanwhile, City Telecom boss Ricky Wong Wai-kay has become increasingly vocal in complaining about having waited 1,000 days for an official decision on whether to give him a television licence. Other applicants include subsidiaries of i-Cable and PCCW.
The government's stinginess in granting broadcasting licences is something inherited from the colonial era when it was taken for granted that the control of broadcasting meant the control of public opinion. But the IT revolution has changed all that.
Today, the government no longer has that control. Anyone can potentially reach a large audience with myriad services in a multimedia convergence between the internet, television and radio. This is the democratising reality our government must recognise. It needs to bring broadcasting laws into the 21st century.