ATV feud with Communications Authority spills into open court

Verdict in case against broadcasting watchdog revealed as court hears appeal against ruling

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2012, 4:10am

ATV won its judicial review to block the release of a damning report by the Communications Authority that criticised its management and found its executive director unfit to hold a broadcast licence, it emerged yesterday.

The judicial review was heard in private in August and the judgment was made known only to the parties in October.

The authority lodged an appeal against the ruling, and proceedings in open court yesterday shed some light on the case for the first time.

In October, the Court of First Instance set aside some decisions made by the authority, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday. But details of the order made by Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung were not known.

The case stemmed from a draft report by the authority which found that ATV executive director James Shing Pan-yu improperly ceded much of his day-to-day responsibilities at the free-to-air station to investor Wong Ching, whom he passed off as a personal consultant.

The report, which has not been released, also proposed fining the station a record HK$1 million for Shing's actions.

Details of the preliminary report were revealed in a judicial review application filed in June by the television station, which sought to prevent the authority releasing the final version of its findings to the public.

The station had asked the court to overturn the authority's decision to impose what it said was a tight deadline for ATV to provide a written response to the draft report.

Yesterday, ATV argued in court that the appeal should also be heard in private or its successful judicial review would be rendered meaningless.

But Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon, of the Court of Appeal, pointed out that appeals were usually heard in open court. He said some of the findings of the draft report were already in the public domain, referring to the judicial review application filed by the station.

Lam also said that, as the case involved public interest, he would not be able to make a decision on his own. The parties will return to court in February, when arguments as to whether or not the public should be excluded will be heard. The full hearing of the appeal is set for April 17.

ATV has been complaining about the authority's refusal to provide information and documents supporting its investigation. The station says it was denied a fair opportunity to reply to the findings without access to the evidence provided by unidentified persons, including "former ATV executives".