ATV directors were unaware of licence protest rally

Board also didn't know of plan to broadcast it, which many say was an abuse of the airwaves

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 4:21am

The row over new TV licences continues, with news that Asia Television's board of directors had no knowledge of a protest on Sunday or plans to broadcast it live.

The ATV board did not know about major investor Wong Ching's plan to lead the protest outside government's headquarters in Admiralty against issuing new free licences, the South China Morning Post has learned.

Sources close to ATV said the board had not met since July, though its articles of association required meetings at least once every three months.

The board also had no clue about the complaints against Wong's action. The Communications Authority said it had received about 2,000 complaints, most saying the broadcast of the protest was misleading and an abuse of the public airwaves.

Sports and culture sector lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who with about 200 other industry veterans has signed a petition for more television stations, said he supported more competition in the television industry.

"The government should come out and explain if there are other considerations for issuing new free TV licences," Ma said.

The saga surrounding the licences has been dragging on for three years.

City Telecom (CTI), i-Cable Communications and PCCW filed their applications in late 2009 and early 2010. The then Broadcasting Authority made recommendations to the Executive Council more than a year ago, but nothing has happened.

CTI employed 700 staff - similar to the number of employees at ATV - to begin producing programmes in preparation for the launch. According to an internal government study, Hong Kong can support at least four free stations.

Ma said he hoped the government would investigate whether ATV had breached any laws.

But ATV's executive director, James Shing Pan-yu, insisted the live broadcast of Sunday's protest was legitimate. The management was discussing the complaints and how to respond, he said.

"Sunday's activity was an important event," Shing said. "ATV has broadcast other important events live in the past."

He said the rally, organised by ATV's Asia Club, was to express the broadcaster's views in an entertaining way.

He thought the show was "very entertaining".

He said there was no plan to stage another event and he had not decided if he would attend Legco's panel meeting to discuss the ATV affair next month.

Mathias Woo, a culture critic and honorary chairman of ATV's Asia Club, said he attended Sunday's event because he was asked to speak. He was not involved in the organisation.

Woo, who has been commissioned by ATV to host a programme, said he supported more licences.

But he said the focus should be shifted back to an urgent revamp of broadcasting policy and how to resolve the system of issuing licences, rather than venting anger and frustration.