• Thu
  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 7:32am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 3:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 3:23am

Government creates own free-TV crisis

There are two things to keep in mind if we are to understand the government's bungled free-TV licensing saga. The first is failed licence applicant Ricky Wong Wai-kay's willingness to commit HK$900 million - if we are to trust his numbers - to a TV station before he had a licence. Even a third of that is a large sum.

The second is TVB's claim that there was a clear understanding with the post-handover government when it and ATV were each granted a 12-year licence - with expiry in 2015 - there would be no new competitors during those years. For this, TVB tried but failed to launch a judicial review. Interestingly, its stock, which had gone through a 20 per cent correction since May, has started a recovery once the government announced the granting of two licences to PCCW and i-Cable but not to Wong's Hong Kong Television Network. Did investors think HKTV, now safely neutralised, was the bigger threat to TVB's market dominance?

Wong may be impulsive but he is no fool. The fact that he was invited by the previous government to apply for a licence must have given him a strong impression that his being granted one was almost a sure thing - hence his willingness to commit on such a scale. That is why, with good reason, he feels burned now.

The dilemma that commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung and the current government faced was how to introduce more TV stations without upsetting TVB and ATV. This explains why So had dragged his feet to make a decision for more than two years since he took over his current post. The two licences, even now, have only been granted "in principle". That will buy the government even more time to take it through 2015, by which time TVB and ATV will have no case to complain.

The problem with Wong is that if he was as good as he claimed, his station could go on-air today if officials let him. If he had kept quiet and been less gung-ho, he might have a fighting chance.

In resolving its business dilemma, the government has created a political crisis for itself. For the government to conduct business as usual is to invite disasters. By only juggling the concerns of commercial parties, it has completely neglected the public, the largest stakeholder in free-TV broadcasting.


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This article is now closed to comments

The only sensible explanation that fits the facts is that the HKTV license was rejected on the orders of the CCP because they don't think they can control Ricky Wong like they can control the other license holders and they're afraid that HKTV could turn into a pro-democracy platform. That's why the administration can't come clean on the real reason.
The devil is in the detail not. I say to look at the larger picture to conclude if the government creates own free-TV crises.
The Night of the Living Dead zombies again on the march for Hong Kong core values. How touching!
Facebook now owns all the bugles worldwide to call forth wraiths' insurrections against real and imagined tyrannies as well as every political and social trivia under the sun.
Could SAR government make a single decision without arousing potential riotous demonstrations of the undead? Fat chance.
Tell the govt to make a decision for the people.
It's ridiculous how much monopolized power TVB has...Inside they surely have some dodgy tactics to keep everyone in order (e.g. an implied understanding that artists should speak mandarin to different channels, if you don't comply, death threats?)
The government must juggling the concerns of 'commercial parties'. As I-cable and NowTV have ATV and TVB as customers, they will not upset them. ATV have now already a very low share in the advertisement income, if the new stations should take each 5% share, ATV is finished. As ATV is in practice a relay station for CCTV channels, this is not acceptable for some.
Clear that the government is 'advised' in this.
Sorry but if what Mr Lo suggests would the whole story, the government could have simply granted all three licences with an effective date Jan 1, 2015. That is just a little over 12 months away anyway - a reasonable delay.

And it could cite its -unfortunate but entirely valid- agreement with TVB and ATV as a reason for this, and everybody would have understood and regarded it as fine and dandy. None of those 36,000 people would have been on the street yesterday.

To take the course of action ExCo took, ignoring the Broadcasting Authority's recommendations, hiring their own shadowy consultant who wrote a secret report, and then make a very odd decision to increase the number of licences from two to four but not to five, and hand-picking the lucky winners of the two slots, there must be a whole lot more to the story than just Mr Wong's eagerness and impatience.
In addition, I understand that the two networks that actually did secure a new free-to-air license are already broadcasting on cable television right now. That reduces Mr Lo's argument that all of this was partly due to the problem of HKTV 'too ready' to rubbles.
"By only juggling the concerns of commercial parties, it has completely neglected the public....."
The HK govt has absolutely no interest in the concerns of the public (read: little people).
Yes, the HK government is always reminding the public (little people) not to be complacent and be vigilant. This invocation seems appropriate toward the actions of the HK government.


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