Government looks set to defeat motion calling for TV licence probe
Bid for special probe into HKTV decision faces defeat as wavering lawmakers set to oppose motion while thousands protest outside Legco
Tanna Chong and Vivienne Chow
A bid to launch a special Legislative Council investigation into television licence row faces defeat today after a group of wavering lawmakers last night decided to vote with the government against a pan-democrat motion.
As thousands opposed to the controversial government decision to refuse Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television a free-to-air television licence protested outside government headquarters, the momentum inside the Legco chamber swung towards the government.
Video: Thousands of HKTV supporters gather government HQ for more protests against the decision to deny the channel a licence
Hours of debate ended without a vote, but barring a remarkable numerical turnaround, the motion to invoke Legco's special investigative powers and spark an investigation into the decision will fail today - and the battle will move to the courts.
Last night's drama followed dissatisfaction at Tuesday's attempt by the government to explain its decision to grant licences only to PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment Company and iCable's Fantastic Television.
It said concerns over "the dilution of advertising revenue" in an overcrowded free-to-air market gave it reason to limit the number of licences granted.
Earlier yesterday, the attempt to force the government to reveal the reasons behind its decision by invoking the powers and privileges ordinance was three votes short in the 35-member functional constituency, after industrial lawmaker Lam Tai-fai decided to vote for the motion.
By last night, three non-affiliated functional lawmakers - Chan Kin-por, Poon Siu-ping and Tony Tse Wai-chuen - were still wavering but the eight votes in from the Business Professional Alliance grouping look to have swung it for the government.
Cultural lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who expressed discontent at the government's handling of the row, said: "There is a strong voice in the industry urging me to vote for the motion, but this is against my beliefs. Resorting to the court for a judicial review is a better option to corner the government," he said.
Amid frantic pre-vote lobbying, the government deployed about 20 officials at the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to ensure enough votes to veto the motion.
The pro-establishment camp expressed disappointment towards government despite most of them opposing the motion.
Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, leader of Business and Professionals Alliance, said the TV licence row would harm the government's ability to implement future policies.
"We really hope the government can learn from its mistakes," said Leung. "They should listen to the people ... the public deserve a choice and there's a wide consensus that the current TV programmes are awful."
Separately, Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong yesterday said it would be best to leave the case to the judiciary.
"The court, as an institution with high credibility, could then review if the government's arguments and procedures in granting licences are reasonable," he said, adding this would be fairer to all parties involved.
Meanwhile, private citizen Lee Yeung-kwong has sought a judicial review of the government's decision - the second such court challenge mounted by a private citizen in as many days.
Additional reporting by Stuart Lau, Jeffie Lam and Austin Chi