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The long-overdue issuing of new free-to-air television licences could be the next political bomb for Leung Chun-ying's government as public discontent rises.
This has become evident amid a mounting chorus of protest against both the delay and the issuing of the licences.
ATV's live broadcast of its rally against the new licences outside government headquarters on Sunday had drawn more than 1,000 complaints by yesterday.
Critics said the struggling station, which sees the licences as unwelcome competition, had abused its power as a broadcaster by airing its own propaganda. The broadcast prompted about 500 people to join a Facebook group called "ATV Please Fold".
Yesterday, more than 200 cultural and media professionals, along with lawmakers and academics, published a petition against the delay in approval of the new licences which is still on hold more than two years after the applications were filed.
The petition was signed by renowned filmmakers Johnnie To Kei-fung, Wai Ka-fai and Benny Chan Muk-sing, and sports and culture lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok. Head of the Baptist University film academy Cheuk Pak-tong, who also signed the petition, said the licence approval was meant to be a simple move.
"But why is the government so stupid?" Cheuk asked.
Lawmaker Charles Mok said the public had shown their discontent with ATV, especially after the Sunday show, and urged the government to look into claims the station had breached the Broadcasting Ordinance.
On Sunday, ATV's major investor Wong Ching led about 400 staff in the rally against new free TV licences.
But critics and industry veterans supported the addition of free-to-air TV stations.
Former directors of broadcasting Franklin Wong Wah-kay and Cheung Man-yee said audiences needed more choices.
Democrat Emily Lau Wai-hing said ATV's action was no different from political advertising and urged the Communications Authority to investigate the station.
Shue Yan University journalism department head Leung Tin-wai condemned ATV for disregarding media ethics in the broadcast.
He also asked on what grounds the Executive Council had put the licence approvals on hold, when the Broadcasting Authority, now the Communications Authority, had endorsed the three applications.
City Telecom (CTI), which has already employed more than 700 people, i-Cable Communications subsidiary Fantastic Television and PCCW's HK Television entertainment filed their applications in late 2009 and early 2010.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung said the government would follow up on the 1,000 complaints against ATV.
The ATV affair will be discussed by the Legco information technology and broadcasting panel next month.