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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

Sugelanren
Well you got the first part right but i wouldn't blame them for your constipation.
Camel
Let's put it in this way. The lobby of TVB got too strong. Who wants another TV station doing quality TV? Not TVB. All what they serve HK public is, cooking shows, entertainment shows and TV serials which insult your intelligence and boring celebrity (most of the time own raised) kissing a..s. That is the current HK quality TV. So, why HKTV got kicked out? Ask TVB and enjoy your education of dummy TV. I got cable and Now TV and happy that I can receive international TV. TVB? If I want to damage my brain cells or if they broadcast the soccer World Cup.
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.
mercedes2233
The Govt has the job of carrying on its business. It can't do so if its activities are continually challenged. And if Mr Wong chooses to invest heavily before he gets a licence, and loses, he will have to face the consequences of that business decision. It shouldn't be used as blackmail to the Govt. into issuing a licence to him. The TVB staff who joined him will probably be doing some soul-searching on their decision to move so prematurely.
aplucky1
i am sure ricky's massive ego can sustain this blow
all he wants to do is plaster his face everywhere
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.
layleng
Two out of the four stations are being run by or are going to be run by cheap **** who will continue to create cringe-worthy fare like Miss Asia, Mr. Hong Kong, Hong Kong Loving Hearts 201X and that appalling spectacle of dance protesters in front of Legco. It is just as well that we are not going to be inflicted with another cheap basterd's idea of entertainment.
boondeiyan
The editing on this piece is atrocious. Come on SCMP, stop the rot.
daily
You win some, you lose some.............Ricky is the Big loser this time!
ray1974
Lost without a fair fight.

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