Former top government adviser urges rethink of HKTV licence decision

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 4:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 4:35am

A former head of the government's top think tank has called on the Executive Council to revisit its decision not to grant a free-to-air licence to Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV).

Professor Lau Siu-kai, who headed the Central Policy Unit from 2002 to 2012, criticised the government for offering "abstract" explanations of its decision, fuelling public discontent and suspicion that the licensing process had been unjust.

Lau expressed concern that the government had underestimated the seriousness of the matter, which has degenerated into a political crisis.

The government's decision to reject HKTV while awarding licences to PCCW's HK Television Entertainment and i-Cable's Fantastic TV has sparked waves of protests.

Some lawmakers are considering setting up an inquiry to look into the Executive Council's decision-making process.

Lau said: "The situation may turn worse. So it is natural that the Executive Council should review the situation seriously to see if it made a suitable decision. If it wants to uphold its decision, it should think carefully about how to explain it to the people."

Lau said the Executive Council could reverse its decision, as long as its authority was not undermined. "If it decides to change its mind [and grant a licence to HKTV], it should think carefully about how to do it without doing too much harm to its authority," he said.

Wong, who said he was prepared for a showdown to press the government to reverse its decision, yesterday said he believed his company might have been denied a licence because he had been "too innovative".

Speaking at a forum on leadership, Wong said he had put himself at the centre of the organisation, rather than at the top.

He argued that was why he still had the support of staff despite having to fire some 320 people after his licence bid failed.

Wong and his supporters have been demanding that the Executive Council make public their deliberations that led to the decision to deny HKTV a licence.

National People's Congress standing committee member Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai warned the government that if it did not explain its reason for rejecting HKTV, it would "pay a political price" for it.

But former secretary for financial services and the treasury Frederick Ma Si-hang said he supported the confidentiality rule, which enabled Exco members to speak freely at meetings.

Meanwhile, the RTHK Programme Staff Union yesterday said it supported a bid by some legislators to set up an inquiry to look into the saga.