Greg So denies stalling new free-to-air TV licences
Commerce secretary says procedures must be followed in issuing free-to-air licences
Commerce Secretary Greg So Kam-leung rejected claims that the government had deliberately delayed issuing new free-to-air television licences on Thursday, saying it had to follow due procedures.
So made the remarks at a Legislative Council meeting as lawmakers passed a non-binding motion urging the government to issue three new licences – which were applied for years ago – by the end of March.
During the debate, pan-democrats questioned why the government had still not made a decision three years after the three applications were submitted.
Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit contended that there might be political pressure from the mainland barring the issue of new licences.
“The process has been halted because the central government became reluctant to see any new free-to-air broadcasters, after seeing a new radio station deliver a full-out attack on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during the election in March,” Leong said.
But So dismissed Leong’s suggestion, saying political considerations were not involved in granting new licences. The government had to go through established procedures, he said, such as getting approval from the chief executive and Executive Council, and giving competing broadcasters enough time to voice their concerns.
“We aim to deal with the matter as quickly as possible, but at the same time we cannot bypass these procedures,” So said.
Three companies – City Telecom (CTI), PCCW and i-Cable – applied for new licences three years ago.
The Broadcasting Authority, now the Communications Authority, has recommended that all three be granted licences.
Meanwhile Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, speaking at a luncheon at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, said “We will work as quickly as we can to come to a decision [on the TV licences’.”
But CTI chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay said he was not happy with either Leung’s or So’s comments.
“Secretary So keeps talking about the procedure, but what is he actually talking about? I think he cannot hide anymore; the public has the right to know. The government keeps talking about an open and transparent approach, but this matter has been hidden for three years. I think this is very irresponsible.”
Asked to comment on the lawmakers’ motion, Wong said: “opinion in the legislature is almost one-sided. Basically all lawmakers, whether they are from the pro-establishment camp or the pan-democratic camp, are in support [of new licenses].
“So I am a bit disappointed. Originally we hoped the government would make a decision before the end of this year, but now the motion says March next year. This is a reality that we have no choice but to accept.”
A continuing row over free-to-air television licences heated up this week when CTI filed libel lawsuits against ATV after it publicly accused Wong of stealing confidential information from ATV while he worked there briefly.
ATV, the smaller of the city’s two existing licence holders, strongly opposes the issuing of any more free-to-air licences.