United front on HKTV hits wall

Liberal Party effort to press for licence runs up against reluctance from pro-establishment allies to exert more pressure on government

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 4:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 4:29am

The Liberal Party leader says he has failed to persuade his pro-establishment allies to back dual efforts among legislators to press for a free-television licence for Hong Kong Television Network.

A political analyst said the latest developments indicated the pro-establishment camp might be unwilling to exert more political pressure on the government than it was already facing.

The Liberals' leader James Tien Pei-chun had initiated a petition hoping to get both pro-establishment and pan-democratic lawmakers to join hands in urging the government to grant investor Ricky Wong Wai-kay's HKTV a licence.

Separately, pan-democrats are preparing to table a motion next month to invoke the Legislative Council's special powers to demand official documents behind the government's decision.

Yesterday, Tien admitted failure in lobbying for pro-establishment support for the petition. "I thought I could be a middleman [between the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps]," he said after a closed-door meeting. "But I failed."

He insisted the market could accommodate a fifth free-television station.

Tien now hopes pan-democrats will launch the petition instead, and he and the other four legislators from his party "would be delighted to sign it".

As for the motion to invoke Legco's powers under the powers and privileges ordinance, the five would support it in principle, Tien said, provided it did not involve any Executive Council confidential documents or trade secrets. The motion was doomed to fail, however, as three major pro-establishment parties yesterday declared their opposition.

Business and Professionals Alliance leader Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said resorting to the ordinance "would affect executive-legislative ties".

Dr Li Pang-kwong, director of Lingnan University's public governance programme, said Beijing loyalists had all along demanded only that the government reveal more details behind its decision-making process.

"It would be difficult for them to support Tien's petition as it actually pressed for Exco to change its decision," Li said.

He believed recent reactions of pro-establishment lawmakers signalled that they had "calmed down" after the initial uproar over the licensing and did not want to stir up more crises for the administration.

In any case, it would be impossible for Exco to make a U-turn on the two-licence decision, executive councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said.

But Law agreed that the government could have explained its actions better.

She also gave an appreciative assessment of HKTV. "The HKTV programmes are of good quality - especially those adventure shows that are rare in the television history of Hong Kong. I appreciate this kind of spirit," she said.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said he and his colleagues had tried their best to process the applications and he saw no reason to step down over the controversy.

So, who was caught on camera looking tearful on Tuesday, said he was touched by HKTV staff's protest at the government headquarters in Admiralty and wished the licensing decision had not affected their work.

Wong has accused the government of blocking HKTV from revising its application in May.

So said that as all three applications were being processed at the time, and it was unfair to let any of them make amendments. "If the applicants kept amending their applications, how long would the whole process [of issuing licences] take?"