Legco vote on probe into TV licence decision hangs in balance

Six-page government explanation of decision not to grant free-to-air licence to HKTV fails to sway lawmakers undecided on special motion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 7:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 2:34pm

A key vote that could trigger a Legislative Council investigation into the television licence row hung in the balance last night after the government reiterated its fears over the potential collapse of the free-to-air market if it handed out too many licences.

In a six-page explanation of its controversial decision not to grant newcomer Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television Network a licence, the government reiterated it took a "gradual and orderly approach" to granting licences.

I didn’t sign [documents] or verbally promise to keep secrets

It also said concerns over the "dilution of advertising revenue" and its effect on the whole free-to-air market gave it a "public interest" reason to limit the number of licences granted.

PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment Company and iCable's Fantastic Television, both subsidiaries of corporate giants, won ahead of Wong's independent HKTV. The South China Morning Post yesterday revealed that a lack of financial support from a parent company was a major reason for not granting HKTV a licence.

Wong accused the government of lying as his supporters planned a rally outside government headquarters today.

Legco votes today on whether to invoke the council's special powers to investigate last month's decision, which sparked widespread protest.

By last night, the government's bid to head off opposition to its decision looked to have left today's vote in the balance as some undecided lawmakers expressed disappointment at the six-page statement, saying public concerns remained unanswered.

Watch: CY Leung at Legco on the free-to-air ruling

To defeat the motion, the government needs the votes of four more functional constituency lawmakers. Charles Mok, who tabled the special-powers motion, said last-minute lobbying of undecided lawmakers would continue down to the wire.

Industrial sector lawmaker Lam Tai-fai said he faced an "immensely difficult" decision over which way to vote.

"The public's queries remain unanswered. I had expectations about the response but it brought disappointment. I will consider all factors thoroughly tonight," said Lam.

Cultural sector lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who had said he was inclined to oppose the motion, said of the government's explanation: "I was slightly disappointed … it is a difficult choice."

The Business and Professional Alliance for Hong Kong, which holds six votes, said members would discuss their stance today.

Speaking at a public event at Shue Yan University, Wong said he had evidence the government had lied, which he would release tomorrow.

"The word 'confidential' was stamped on the consultancy reports given by the government. But I didn't sign or verbally promise to keep secrets," said Wong. "It's tough for a righteous man to battle with a villain."

He called the government hypocritical for rejecting HKTV's plea to publish the consultancy reports in full and instead releasing the partial truth to the public.

Wong also attacked the government's argument that a parent company's financial capabilities were the overriding factor. It was unjust, he said, that Fantastic TV and HKTVE were chosen because they were subsidiaries of developer Wharf and telecoms giant PCCW respectively.

"I don't have a 'father' [parent company]," said Wong. "Does it mean you don't have to build your own business if you don't have rich parents?"