Exco chief says HKTV decision reflected 'cautious' approach to local market

With Legco set to vote, convenor suggests that HKTV application may have been rejected due to fears about overcrowded free-to-air market

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 2:36pm

Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong has given the most detailed account yet of why Hong Kong Television Network's (HKTV) application for a free-to-air licence was rejected - three days ahead of a crucial vote by lawmakers on the issue.

Lam said the government had taken a "cautious" approach in denying HKTV's application while approving those of subsidiaries of i-Cable and PCCW.

He cited the view of the government's consultant that, based on existing advertising revenue, the market could "barely support" two new players, in addition to TVB and ATV.

His remarks come amid a tug of war between the government and HKTV staff for the support of lawmakers ahead of a Legislative Council vote on Wednesday that could force an investigation into the contentious licence decision.

"If three new players are being added to the market, in a competition among five licence holders, it is extremely likely that someone would fail," he said on a Commercial Radio show.

Dismissing arguments that the government should leave it for a free market to decide if any player should close, Lam said: "A television station is different from a cha chaan teng, after all.

"It employs at least a thousand people, including many professional and technical personnel. The investment could also amount to … hundreds of million [dollars] a year. Therefore Exco's overall conclusion is that it is better to do it cautiously."

Media reports have said that consultants had identified the beleaguered ATV as the most likely station to fail in the face of greater competition. But without naming any player, Lam stressed that the consultants' view was only one of the Executive Council's many considerations in decision-making.

"The Exco did not consider protecting existing players … [nor] the interest of individual applicants," he said.

Commenting on information technology lawmaker Charles Mok's bid to invoke the Legco (Powers & Privileges) Ordinance to launch an inquiry into the government's deliberations, Lam suggested this could be inappropriate as it would expose "sensitive commercial information".

A majority of both directly elected and functional constituency lawmakers is needed for Mok's motion to be passed. While the vote among directly elected lawmakers seems sewn up in favour of the motion, it is still four votes short of the number required from functional constituency lawmakers.

Ma Fung-kwok, representing the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector, revealed that while he remained undecided about how he would vote, he might consider taking the matter to court.

"If the government failed to give a proper explanation over the denial of a free-TV licence to HKTV, and the Legislative Council couldn't invoke the Legco (Powers & Privileges) Ordinance, I would consider filing a judicial review," Ma said.

Meanwhile, Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said HKTV chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay should consider buying ATV to show his station's programmes.