TV licensing could be discussed again in wake of HKTV snub fury

Executive councillor hints at need to question controversial decision to snub HKTV, as commentators come up with alternative plans

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 11:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:28pm

One of the chief executive's closest aides believes the television licensing issue could be put before the Executive Council again, and said the government was monitoring the city's reaction to its decision to leave HKTV out of the picture.

Executive Councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, who headed Leung Chun-ying's office when he was chief executive-elect, said: "I believe Exco could have a chance to discuss the licence issue again."

When Law - who said on Wednesday that there was no room for a U-turn on the licensing decision - was asked if her comment meant Exco would discuss the controversy, she would only say: "Under the confidentiality rule, the Exco agenda should not be revealed."

She was speaking after former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang called on Exco members to revisit the controversial decision to award licences to i-Cable's Fantastic TV and PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment, but not HKTV, which is run by entrepreneur Ricky Wong Wai-kay.

On a radio programme yesterday, Chan said: "The government should have the courage to … reverse a wrong decision."

Its decision saw 36,000 to 80,000 protesters - depending on whether the police or the organisers' estimate is taken as correct - descend on government headquarters on Sunday. A group of about 100 HKTV staff have since remained camped out at Tamar demanding an explanation.

Law said further public explanation of the decision would be up to the administration and whether disclosures would affect the judicial review filed by Wong. An Exco spokeswoman refused to comment as "the case has entered judicial proceedings".

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, another Exco member, said the government had been aware that HKTV was the most popular of the three candidates. "The government ... cannot just make an about-turn just because of large numbers of sit-ins and noisy objections," said Ip, a New People's Party lawmaker.

Beijing loyalist Ng Hon-mun called on the government to consider issuing a third licence at a later date.

In a newspaper article, Ng, a former National People's Congress deputy, wrote that the tremendous discontent over the denial of HKTV's free-to-air TV licence application looked set to inflict the largest damage on governance so far - but it was not too late to remedy the damage.

"The non-transparent process of licence vetting … has led to numerous rumours," Ng said. "The government is stuck in a very difficult situation."

He added: "The government can review whether to issue an additional licence a year after the two new stations start broadcasting."

Political commentator Stephen Shiu Yeuk-yuen gave an alternative proposal - let HKTV show its programmes on other stations until 2015, when TVB and ATV's licences are due for renewal.

He criticised the government's poor judgment, which has led to a public relations disaster. "This government just shows there is no limit to its stupidity," Shiu added.

Broadcaster Robert Chua said it would have been irresponsible for any government to issue too many licences knowing limited advertising revenue would see one player killed off. He added: "Let ATV close so HKTV can start from fresh, without the need to take over their debts."

Ricky Wong was considering attending the ongoing protests at Tamar tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, actor Chow Yun-fat called for more licences to be issued, while director Johnnie To Kei-fung arrived at the sit-in to show his support. Also, staff from performer Nicholas Tse Ting-fung's post-production firm brought the protesters soup.