'This is not just about television'
Marchers say the government showed disdain for the public by failing to explain its decision not to grant HKTV a licence
People from all walks of life were among the thousands who turned out at Tamar yesterday to protest against the government's controversial decision to deny Hong Kong Television Network a free-to-air broadcast licence.
It was a sea of black outside government headquarters - formed by protesters in matching T-shirts - and everyone from families and students to keen television viewers and those who barely watch television wanted to make their voices heard.
They called for justice and the preservation of Hong Kong's core values.
Protesters said they wore black to convey what they saw as one of the darkest weeks for the city's media industry. They marched from Causeway Bay to Tamar in Admiralty, where they joined forces with some of the 320 former HKTV employees who were laid off after the company's application was rejected. The laid-off workers were planning to stage an overnight sit-in outside the complex.
The ex-employees took turns making speeches on a podium alongside Civic Party lawmaker and former journalist Claudia Mo Man-ching. Student group Scholarism arrived a bit later from Causeway Bay to the sound of fervent cheers and applause.
Protesters clutched placards which read "Don't kill the media" and chanted slogans such as "Demand justice! Don't kill our dream".
They called on the government to give a full account of why free-to-air licences were given to stations to be run by pay-television operators PCCW and Cable TV, and not to entrepreneur Ricky Wong Wai-kay's HKTV.
"I seldom watch television, but it's not only about TV now," said Philip Wong, a retiree.
"The government has given me the feeling that it doesn't care about what the general public thinks - it didn't even bother to explain its decision."
Bosco Chan, 26, said he had never attended a rally but this one had incited him to participate as he had "reached boiling point" and feared the government would continue to withhold other rights from the public such as universal suffrage.
Hundreds of television and showbiz stars - usually a rarity at protests - also participated. Among them was former TVB and now HKTV presenters Maggie Cheung Ho-yee and Yoyo Mung. Kung fu star Yuen Wah and ex-TVB veterans Felix Lok Ying-kwan and Yu Mo-lin were also among the crowd.
HKTV actor Frankie Lam Man-lung said the commerce secretary owed the public a proper explanation.
"Tell me why we were disqualified. Let us work harder to improve. I just want to do my job properly. I do not want to know that I failed without a reason," said a teary-eyed Lam on stage at the rally.
"I do not know whether there is still hope in Hong Kong, and if there is any need to work hard any more."
Film star Chin Siu-ho, who brought along his 11-year-old son Tinsley, said he was not an HKTV employee but came because justice was at stake.
If the government doesn't have to explain the issuing of television licences, then it might not explain anything in future, Chin said, adding that he had brought his son to show him what was going on in society.
"We must let our children know how this incident is crushing our core values," he said.
Meanwhile, a small counter protest was staged on the pedestrian bridge across from the site by about a dozen people waving Hong Kong and national flags and singing the national anthem through a loudspeaker.
The group exchanged insults with the HKTV supporters and claimed to be rallying support for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his Executive Council's decision to reject the station's application.
The group's spokeswoman, Li Mei-na, denied the group was a radical pro-government splinter faction and said they were protesting for "fairness".
Police said turnout at the rally peaked at 36,000.
Reporting team: Johnny Tam, Vivienne Chow, Ernest Kao, Emily Tsang and Samuel Chan