My Take

Denial of licence for Ricky Wong's HKTV sorriest episode in free-TV saga

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:12am

Greg So Kam-leung had more than two years to defuse a political time bomb by coming up with an equitable decision on granting new free-TV licences and giving a reasonable explanation for it. Yet he failed miserably this week, and as a result more than a quarter of a million people expressed support for an online campaign against his decision. It's hard to screw up an official announcement this badly even if you try.

Thanks to the commerce chief, we have just seen revealed how our government really operates: favour the companies of established tycoons, undermine the investment and creative efforts of independent entrepreneurs, and exercise excessive state interference while claiming to open up an over-regulated, monopolistic market.

So duly announced two new licences will go to subsidiaries of PCCW and i-Cable, companies controlled respectively by Richard Li Tzar-kai, younger son of Hong Kong's most powerful businessman, Li Ka-shing, and Wharf supremo Peter Woo Kwong-ching, a former chief executive candidate. Left out in the cold is Hong Kong Television Network, led by Ricky Wong Wai-kay, the loud and brash entrepreneur who helped shake up the city's telecom and broadband industries.

Perhaps the government is too afraid he might do the same to the TV industry. In his announcement, So mentioned repeatedly the need to introduce new TV operators "in a gradual and orderly manner", a phrase he borrowed from the government's playbook on democratic reform. God forbid we have an operator that produces game-changing hit series and disruptive technologies.

So made much of financial stability. But we are not talking about too-big-to-fail banks. So what if a broadcaster goes under? Viewers will have fewer crappy soap operas to watch! No real explanation was given why HKTV was rejected when it has disclosed the most to the public about its finances - HK$900 million invested so far - and operations, such as the number of hours of original production and overseas programme purchases. We know next to nothing about the other two rivals.

This government is always complaining about Hong Kong losing its competitive edge. Guess who is to blame.