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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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This article is now closed to comments

aplucky1
i am sure ricky's massive ego can sustain this blow
all he wants to do is plaster his face everywhere
ejmciii
Unlike the wise masters from the mainland. Some more poison in your fake eggs, genius?
Ka
It is better if government can explain why it rejected Mr. Wong to get the Free-to-air television license in order to show the policy transparency. If not, public would question whether our government add any political factors and other variables inside its consideration or not. If not, this decision can generate a large pressure that can affect the governance in the future. It is so reasonable that people are very doubtful on government officials' decision making. Because the sound from public is really clear that they want to have more TV companies without monopoly by two. However, government seems not to hear their voices as well as opinions.
johnsonwkchoi
邏輯在哪裡?如果香港10大有錢人各人花一億元聘請演員製作電視節目,然後申請香港電視牌照, 香港政府是不是必須強制給予他們每人一個新電視牌照?這意味添加十大新的電視台? 花多少錢在電視牌照申請是申請人自己的業務決策,香港政府不可能負責您的企業決策責任。 Where is the logic? if the ten most wealthy people in Hong Kong each spend one hundred million to hire artists and produced television program, does that mean hong kong government are required to grant each of them television licenses? That means ten more television stations? How much money an applicant spent on the television license is their own business decision, Hong Kong Government cannot be held liable.
news
The logic is the government should clearly explain why Ricky Wong fails.
newyorkgirl
The logic would be the public gets the right to choose who stays and who goes.
newyorkgirl
Viewership
chanaa
its easier to control 2 broadcasters than 3. Very simple
scmpgt
Suddenly I get a feeling this channel is going to be very very good. Not to say TVB who hogs up all the TV talents have bad contents. But let's face it. Ricky Wong can probably do better.
Yingnam Fong
Even if the rules of the game is for the government to conduct the pre-qualification via negotiation to shortlist a list of bidders for consideration, there is no guarantee that there will not be a policy change in the final stage of evaluation. In Wong's case, the death cause must be related to the sudden need to tighten up of the control over the freedom of speech in Hong Kong to avert a louder voice being made by the pan democratic and its fans.

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