TV licence row heads for court showdown as CY Leung refuses to budge

Rejected free-to-air applicant Ricky Wong vows to apply for judicial review as CY Leung insists government procedure met legal requirements

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 3:07pm

The government and disappointed television licence applicant Ricky Wong Wai-kay are set for a court showdown after he and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying crossed swords yesterday.

Leung said the government had sought legal advice, including that of a Queen's Counsel, to ensure the procedure for granting the free-to-air licences complied with legal requirements.

But Wong, head of Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV), said he would apply for a judicial review in two or three weeks in an effort to prove otherwise. He said his legal advice was that he had a good chance of winning.

Before attending an Executive Council meeting yesterday, Leung received a letter of protest from about 200 HKTV staff over its exclusion in favour of iCable's Fantastic TV and PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment Company.

In a subsequent press briefing, he insisted the government favoured a gradual approach in issuing licences and "rejecting no one" was not part of its policy.

"We alerted the three applicants in advance about our inclination. It was not when Exco made the decision that we started adopting the principle," he said.

While some executive councillors have sought to distance themselves from the controversy, Leung said the decision to reject HKTV was a collective one.

But Wong said he did not hear until he received a letter from the government in May that all three licences might not be granted.

He said changing the "rules of the game" without a public consultation would constitute unreasonable governance, which he believed would be a strong basis for a judicial review.

"The chief executive should consult the public if there's a change of policy. Who rules: the law, the policies, or the chief executive?"

Wong has said a woman official called him in 2009 inviting him to apply. Yesterday he said the official had said clearly that as long as HKTV fulfilled the basic requirements it would qualify. "How can the government not issue a licence [now]?" he asked.

Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan was commerce minister in 2009.

Asked how much he was prepared to put into legal battles, Wong said that after suspending all productions, "I don't need to spend HK$1 million on a drama episode any more". He said that as of February, HKTV had more than HK$2 billion in cash.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, meanwhile, said it was not a policy for the government to give out a licence to every applicant. It said the Chief Executive in Council made the decision after considering all factors, such as the sustainability of the market.

Former secretary for commerce, industry and technology Joseph Wong Wing-ping challenged Leung's remarks yesterday, saying the government had never adopted a "gradual and orderly approach" in introducing competition to the TV market.

"If the government invents a new policy ... they should pass it to Communications Authority and let them conduct a public consultation first," he said.

"Leung's administration has violated the usual policy-making process and the practice is very abnormal."