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  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 1:46am
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Public outcry over rejection of Ricky Wong's free-to-air TV licence bid

Politicians and 410,000 on Facebook demand explanation as entrepreneur says he was asked by government to join bidding process in 2009

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 9:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 7:05pm

Officials faced mounting public pressure yesterday to explain why they denied Ricky Wong Wai-kay's company a free-to-air television licence.

The shocked telecoms entrepreneur revealed that he joined the race for a licence in 2009 at the invitation of the government.

But his was the only bid to be rejected on Tuesday when the granting of free-to-air television licences to two other players - pay-TV operators PCCW and i-Cable - was announced.

They will compete with existing players TVB and ATV.

The award of licences only to PCCW's HK Television Entertainment Company and i-Cable's Fantastic Television caused a public outcry online and in radio talkback shows.

Politicians and nearly 400,000 people who signed a Facebook petition demanded that the government give a full account of the reasons for denying Wong's Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) a licence. Thousands vowed to protest at government headquarters on Sunday.

Commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung said a consultants' report - which the government has not made public - predicted the city could not support five television stations.

But Wong, who said 320 of HKTV's 500 staff would lose their jobs at the end of this month, described the decision as unjust and "against the public".

He said the government provided no explanation for why he lost out and he did not know the rules had been changed, from having an unlimited number of licensees to choosing two out of three applicants.

The government told legislators in a 1998 paper that "under the new technology-neutral licensing regime, there would be no limit on the number of domestic free licences issued".

Wong said he was contacted by a very senior government official four years ago.

"In 2009, the government called me to invite me [to bid]. On December 31, 2009, we submitted the application," he said.

Wong would not confirm that the official was the then commerce minister, Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan, because it was possible a court would review the decision.

Meanwhile, Philip Li Koi-hop, the chairman of the fringe political group, the People's Opposition Party, filed an application for a judicial review.

A government source said: "As lawsuits are looming, the government has to be cautious in explaining the rationale behind its decision, apart from stating general principles."

Wong defended the quality of HKTV's bid. "We are the most qualified among the three applicants. We focus on entertainment, which is what Hong Kong lacks," he said.

But So pointed to HKTV's plan to operate as many as 30 channels and questioned whether it had the experience to do so or could be competitive. Wong said: "If we are not up to standard and if our score is low, show us the score sheet.

"If this just ends like this, does Hong Kong still have justice?"

A member of the Communications Authority's broadcast complaints committee, Simon Ho Sai-hau, demanded a government explanation, saying it was not the administration's job to ensure a television operator's survival.

Wong said he had no plans to acquire other stations or reapply in 2015 when the licences for TVB and ATV expired.

Video: CY Leung at Legco on the free-to-air ruling

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chuchu59
So HK cannot support 5 TV stations and HKTV, as the odd man out, gets the boot. PCCW is closely connected with TVB whereas i-cable has some connections with ATV. The Government needs to explain whether they had despatched someone to invite Ricky to apply for a licence. If that had been the case and as a result he made heavy investments he can reasonably expect that his application stood a good chance of being approved. Furthermore, if there was a 1998 paper stating that there was no limit to the number of domestic licences issued, why is it that all of a sudden the Government comes with with a consultancy report stating HK can only have 4 operators. What is the motive behind it? I would expect that Exco or any licensing body for that matter would consider whether an applicant is sincere and from the investment already made HKTV seems to be sincere. Greg had also said Exco took into account programme planning, technical soundness, investment and public opinion in arriving at its decision. I cant see how HKTV is inferior to the other 2 competitors on the latter 2 factors. It has already made billions in investment whereas the other 2 only pledged 'investments'. Public sentiment is seemingly on HKTV's side so I would like to know whether Exco was presented with an opinion survey when deliberating on the merits of each application.
This is just wrong on so many levels. We need more choices not monopolies.
Dao-Phooy
Free market in HK - this is such a ridiculous decision! If The market can't sustain another 3 channels let the market decide which fail!
impala
If ATV is allowed to broadcast, it is hard to see why anybody else can't. I have seen school campus TV delivering better stuff than the average ATV broadcast, so it is hard to believe that the reason for rejecting the license application of HKTV was a qualitative concern.
whoaman
Ummm let's see - TVB = monopoly, ATV = token 'competition', PCCW = Li Ka Shing (monopoly), iCable = Wharf Holdings (token competition)
HKTV = possible real innovation, actual quality investment, and non-CCTV style...OOPS, no license
Oh, and it's not a crony (i.e. big business) of the government (yet).
Blender51
A government is supposed to promote innovation, progression and entrepreneurship‎, not hinders the society with the agenda of its own officials. The situation here is quickly escalating from a failed business case to a political crisis, further highlighting the incompetence of the executive branch.
dynamco
this guy wanted to provide free tv
the Govt quoted a plastic report (ie we pay for it, here is the Conclusion, now write around that) saying there is not enough competition space for 5 channels here blah blah blah (here's another Cyberport deal)
who cares what Govt thinks
that's business
if they cannot sell advertising they will fold
The Govt should have allowed all participants to invest their money & stand or fail
They really are totally incompetent and inept, or following Northern orders
hard times !
the decision made by the leung administration together with its Exco might probably be politically affected as this Ricky Wong Wai-kay once demonstrated his stance that ATV wouldn't be run as CCTV on Mainland China when he took up his job as the CEO of the ATV (where he stayed in the post for just 12 days only ). His not-so-friendly attitude adopted towards Chinese authorities might be the vital cause of his failure to be granted a free-to-air TV licence this time.Though the Broadcasting Authority earlier on recommended all three applicants of the free-to-air TV licences be granted, yet in the end, only the two inferior ones to Wong's HKTV Network were given the green lights---------no political consideration claimed by Jack So (secretary for commerce and economic development) can never ease our worries and doubts.The government has to explain publicly and clearly the reason for the rejection of HKTV's application to the public or the prestige and trustworthiness of C.Y.'s government might further plunge ! Just wait and see.
Hollander323
Ricky Wong Wai-kay is a cowboy in the market. He invested heavily and started hiring high profile TV personnel, producing and broadcasting TV series online even before he was granted a license. Apparently he has prepared and keen to go out to kill his competitors in the market but unluckily he is not given a license to do so. All in all, he is not a real businessman as far as real business goes, and I am quite sure that his business plan submitted to the government would just reflect these. He fails simply because his business plan fails, period.
patrick.gifford.180
Anyway , Hong kong tv channels Programs are some of the worst in the world, It looks like French TV in the 1970 's . Nothing interesting on prime time , boring documentaries about monkeys or brain surgery at 8 pm! . morning or afternoon programs are miserable too .
Sugelanren
You may be right about Ricky's ego but he is not the only one to lose out. We all have! Not just by one less TV station but by the lack of transparency on how the decision was made. Its not good for Hong Kong - just another drip in the pool of rising anti-mainland sentiment.

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