Governance is at stake in TV licensing fallout, observers warn

Opposition from politically neutral residents and even administration allies signals a crisis worse than national education row, observers warn

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 4:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 4:53am

The storm over free-television licensing may leave a more far-reaching impact on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's governance than any of his administration's previous crises, as many pro-government allies distance themselves from the decision, observers say.

Last Tuesday's announcement denying Hong Kong Television Network a free-to-air broadcasting licence sparked a protest rally at government headquarters that entered its third day yesterday.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former secretary for commerce, industry and technology, said he believed most of the marchers on Sunday were originally politically neutral or even pro-government.

Their opposition to the decision signalled the potential for a crisis of governance, he said.

"It is not a political crisis stirred up by pan-democrats - it has to do with the failure of Leung's decision to impress even his supporters," Wong said.

The controversy has moved from the initial perceived unfairness of leaving high-profile HKTV owner Ricky Wong Wai-kay out of the market, to raising questions over the secrecy of Executive Council deliberations, to allegations that the city's core values are under threat.

Joseph Wong warned the government should not take for granted that the pro-establishment camp would veto a pan-democratic motion to invoke the Legislative Council's powers to demand documents behind the official deliberations. "Pro-establishment lawmakers may not dare to betray their voters after all," he said. The motion, to be prepared by information technology representative Charles Mok, is expected to be put to Legco on November 6.

Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun, who used to sit on Exco, said Leung's standing as leader would "definitely" be hit, including from a business viewpoint, if the government stuck to its guns not to offer a clearer explanation.

He said: "The business sector used to think the government's tender process was fair and just and the results would be explained openly, but now it seems the officials are [doing the opposite] … Now, with such overwhelming public views, the licensing decision is looking to become more problematic than the national education controversy last year, when it was just about a [contentious] handbook and a single issue."

Today, Tien will ask his pro-establishment allies to support a petition pressing for an HKTV licence. His proposal has so far been backed only by pan-democrats.

If the petition bid failed, Tien said, he and the other four legislators from his party would consider supporting the pan-democrats' motion to invoke Legco's powers.

Even as Tien spoke, Paul Tse Wai-chun had become the first pro-establishment lawmaker to support the motion.

However, Tse is a directly elected legislator, and pan-democrats already take up more than half the seats in geographical constituencies.

So the motion still needs the support of nine pro-establishment lawmakers in the functional constituencies to be passed.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the motion would trigger complex legal problems if it got through. The question is whether Exco's confidentiality rules can be overridden by Legco's powers to summon any document.