Television Broadcasts (TVB)

Provisional licences could solve free-TV deadlock

The idea could be only way forward, 3 years after filing applications, say cable companies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 4:20am

Provisional free-to-air TV station licences could be a way to solve the current deadlock, applicants say.

It has been three years since City Telecom, i-Cable and PCCW lodged their applications for the TV licences, with no sign from the government indicating approval or not.

The issue is complicated by legal action threatened by two existing stations, which say issuing new licences before theirs expire in 2015 would be unfair and unjustified.

As a possible way out, issuing provisional licences was "an interesting idea that merits serious consideration by all parties concerned", an i-Cable spokesman said.

The government was now looking at very limited options, including letting the matter drag on forever, deciding against any licence grants or granting any number of new licences, the spokesman said. The first two options were not feasible in view of the government's 1998 announcement to liberalise the free-TV market, the former Broadcasting Authority's 2011 recommendation in favour of issuing licences to the three applicants and the current snowballing public opinion for more licences, he claimed.

"More important, it has now become rather obvious that there would be judicial reviews, injunction-order applications or both, whichever way things turn out. We therefore find the provisional licence idea interesting as it might provide everybody with a much needed way forward," he said.

While the provisional licensees would operate on a short-term basis, long-running stations would be given the time they need to look into new licence terms and conditions, he added.

The idea of a provisional licence came about as City Telecom chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay said on Tuesday that he was "willing to accept" a provisional licence, given the pressure put onto the government by TVB and ATV.

But he clarified there was "no such thing as a temporary licence", just that his company had expected certain TV companies would ask for a judicial review.

Wong said yesterday he was still confident in obtaining a licence. He would not lay off any staff for now nor would he prepare any alternative plans in case the government made a U-turn.

Grace Leung Lai-kuen, lecturer of Chinese University's school of journalism and communication, said before the government can give out provisional licences, new terms should be introduced to the Broadcasting Ordinance.