City Telecom looks to courts over television licence delay

A judicial review is an option, says chairman Ricky Wong, with firm still waiting for decision on new free-to-air TV licences after 1,000 days

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 3:25am

City Telecom may try to seek a judicial review if the government refuses to make a decision on new free-to-air television licences, chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay said yesterday.

"A judicial review is definitely something a commercial entity would consider," he said, adding that it was "only one of the options to be considered".

Wong's comment came after lawmakers flooded the secretary for commerce and economic development, Greg So Kam-leung, with another round of questions over the licences, with no results.

So, speaking in the Legislative Council, reiterated that the Executive Council was still considering the applications, and that the government would make a decision for the good of the broadcasting industry.

Wong, who applied for a licence in 2009, has lost his patience after waiting for more than 1,000 days.

"I will have to face my shareholders," he said. "The issue will not be silenced."

City Telecom has invested more than HK$300 million and hired 700 staff and 200 artists. It also sold its telecommunications assets, including Hong Kong Broadband Network, for HK$5 billion in May to focus on building a TV empire.

"If our attempt fails, no one will dare to put money into creative industries," Wong said. Only the announcement of a timetable detailing the licence approval process would dampen worries, he said.

Worries of a different kind beset existing free-to-air operators, and ATV launched a bid for a judicial review to stop new licences. While the court accepted that new market entrants could have a significant and unfair competitive advantage over the existing licensees, it dismissed the review, saying there was no arguable case as the government had not made a final decision.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, an assistant professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said a judicial review could be launched if the applicant established that the government had spent "more time than appropriate" in making a decision on the licences. There was no need to wait until a decision had been made.

"The court will not judge the merits of the decision but the legality of it. It will see if the government took relevant factors into consideration, or whether it considered irrelevant factors in the process," he said.

Political concerns would be an irrelevant factor that the government should not consider. If an applicant could prove that the government had refused to give out new licences to maintain a tight grip on the number of TV stations and thus bigger control over expression of opinion, it would be a legal basis for a court fight, Cheung said.

Other licence applicants include Fantastic Television, a subsidiary of i-Cable Communications, and HK Television Entertainment, set up under PCCW Interactive Media Holdings.