ATV loses fight to reveal informers

Judges tell Communications Authority it can keep the names of sources secret when it publishes investigation into broadcaster

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 5:13am

The Office of the Communications Authority can publish the findings of its investigation into ATV while protecting the identities of the insiders it interviewed, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

The ruling overturned a lower court's decision that it would be unfair to ATV for the Communications Authority to publish its findings without revealing the identities of the people who gave information.

Welcoming the decision, the authority said it would complete the investigation as soon as possible and make its report public.

ATV said it was examining whether it would launch a further appeal.

The main issue of the authority's investigation, the court said in its judgment, was whether major ATV investor Wong Ching was in "de facto" control of the broadcaster, in breach of residential and other requirements under the Broadcasting Ordinance.

Mr Wong Ching is a financial investor in ATV and a holder of convertible bonds issued by ATV. He is not a shareholder, a board director nor a principal officer of ATV

The investigation was triggered by an anonymous letter of complaint to the former Broadcasting Authority in June 2011 asking it to investigate whether Wong - a well-connected mainland businessman - had been exercising control over ATV.

There were allegations that Wong had interfered with the news department, changed programming schedules and altered marketing and advertising plans.

In a statement in response to questions from the South China Morning Post after yesterday's ruling, the authority said its predecessor "in response to public concern and relevant complaints received about the role of Mr Wong Ching in ATV's management", had decided to conduct an investigation to see whether regulatory requirements had been breached.

"According to the information provided by ATV, Mr Wong Ching is a financial investor in ATV and a holder of convertible bonds issued by ATV.

"He is not a shareholder, a board director nor a principal officer of ATV. Therefore he does not have any capacity or rights to exercise control of ATV," the statement said.

In its initial replies to the authority, ATV claimed that Wong's participation in day-to-day business was only in the capacity of a personal consultant to its executive director James Shing Pan-yu.

In its 52-page judgment, the Court of Appeal said: "The authority has carried out a proper balancing exercise of the competing interests between ATV's right to know and to respond, the right to protection of the interviewees, the public interest in securing information from the interviewees and the need to conduct the investigation efficiently."

The appeal court also agreed that it was "readily understandable and reasonable" for employees and former workers of the broadcaster to fear the consequences if their identities were disclosed.



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