ATV rallied its staff outside the Admiralty government headquarters yesterday for a live broadcast to oppose a “disastrous” pledge by the former administration to issue new licences for free television broadcasting.
ATV staff were reportedly forced to join the protest, for which the station deployed its own security guards to keep order at the government offices.
The private guards barred legislators and teenage counter-protesters – who supported more free-TV licences – from entry to what they called a “private event”.
Pan-democratic lawmakers tried to walk into the crowd. But as Claudia Mo Man-ching, of the Civic Party, approached key ATV investor Wong Ching – a mainland tycoon also known as Wang Zheng – a dozen Mr Asia contestants formed a human wall in front of him.
Mo asked if ATV had breached broadcasting rules by broadcasting the protest, which was “purely based on political messages”.
Asia Club, an ATV subsidiary that organised the rally, put the number of participants at 400, about the same estimate as given by police.
The station’s artists sang 1990s Canto-pop songs while Mr Asia beauty contestants strutted their stuff on a catwalk.
Wong, surrounded by a sea of reporters, said: “To issue new licences means the start of a disaster.” He said “Taiwanisation” and “politicisation” of the media should be avoided.
Wong dismissed suggestions that ATV’s resistance stemmed from its position as an also-ran in the market. “Should there be [television stations] weeded out, ATV will be the last one. I’m not afraid of losing money. I’m prepared to make profits.”
ATV is the lesser-watched of the two free stations, behind TVB.
ATV executive director James Shing Pan-yu said issuing new licences went against the development of new media. “Why don’t [the other companies] develop the online platform instead?”
He questioned whether the market could accommodate more than two free-to-air stations, citing the failed Commercial Television in the 1970s.
The rally was organised after City Telecom (HK) said last week that it might seek a judicial review on the government’s delay in issuing new licences.
City Telecom, along with i-Cable Communications subsidiary Fantastic Television and PCCW Interactive Media firm HK Television Entertainment, applied in late 2009 and early 2010 for the licences.
ATV staff members denied they had attended under pressure. “I’m here voluntarily,” said Lydia Luk, a veteran member of the production team.
To Yiu-ming, an associate professor of journalism at Baptist University, said he believed ATV’s survival was at risk.
“We can experiment with having a few more free stations and see what the market reaction is,” he said.
A spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said it was considering the applications “expeditiously and prudently”.