The minister in charge of broadcasting policy has hinted there could still be a long wait for a decision on new free-to-air television licences.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung said yesterday there was no timeframe for a decision, saying the Executive Council was still considering the issue.
But he reiterated that there was no political considerations behind the delay, saying everything had to be done according to established procedures.
"I have clarified many times that political concerns are an irrelevant factor," said So. "We have been following our laws and guidance notes and procedures to process [the licence applications].
"The Executive Council will make a decision. Our bureau will offer support to the Exco... It is not appropriate for us to set a timeframe for Exco. I believe the council will process the applications in a prudent and prompt manner."
His comments yesterday appeared to shift slightly from his previous stance, that the government would follow proper procedures in processing the applications and a decision would be made as soon as possible.
There were reports that Exco had agreed in principle to issue new licences but was uncertain whether it should grant them to all three applicants, hence the delay.
One of the applicants, City Telecom, appeared to be losing patience, with its chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay saying he might consider lodging a judicial review if the government postponed its decision for too long.
City Telecom has reportedly invested more than HK$300 million and hired 700 workers and 200 performers for its proposed station. It also sold its telecommunication assets for HK$5 billion earlier this year to focus on building a TV empire.
A City Telecom spokeswoman yesterday expressed disappointment with So's statements, saying: "It is irresponsible. Whether they are going to grant us a licence or not, they should tell us as soon as possible."
The company cancelled a press conference planned for today, sparking speculations that the unusual move was due to some development in the licence saga.
The spokeswoman said the press event was cancelled because it would have been too close to the announcement of its financial results.
Other licence applicants include Fantastic Television, a subsidiary of i-Cable Communications, and HK Television Entertainment, set up under PCCW Interactive Media Holdings. But neither of them was as vocal as City Telecom in the fight for licence.
The saga is showing signs of brewing into another political bomb, after a mounting chorus of protest against both the delay and the issuing of licences.