Liaison Office 'sounded out' Legco members on TV licence probe vote

Lawmakers admit they were approached before TV licence vote by Beijing officials – with some expressing concern for government's credibility

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 3:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 2:57am

A pro-government lawmaker who voted for a Legislative Council investigation bid into the free-to-air television licence saga admitted he had been approached by the central government's liaison office.

Dr Leung Ka-lau, of the medical sector, said the mainland officials had no view either way about whether Hong Kong Television Network should be awarded a free-to-air licence.

But they were concerned that a policy U-turn would harm the government.

"I was approached for discussion by some frontline officials at the liaison office … I feel they had no specific views over the number of licences awarded," said Leung. "But they were concerned that a turnabout on the licence decision would jeopardise the government's authority and credibility."

A bid by pan-democrats to invoke Legco's special powers to probe the decision process, and the failure to award a licence to Hong Kong Television Network, was rejected yesterday by functional constituency lawmakers, who are mostly Beijing-loyalists.

The failure to summon the four consultancy reports on the licensing process - believed to have been instrumental in the government's deliberations - triggered disappointment among the 400 protesters watching live streaming of the meeting in Civic Square, Tamar. HKTV said it was "disappointed" and would announce its next step soon.

Video: Thousands of HKTV supporters gather at government HQ for more protests

While pan-democrats said they would invoke the special powers again to summon HKTV chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay's copies of the consultancy reports, today's Legco IT panel special meeting will see the first confrontation between Wong and Greg So Kam-leung, the secretary for commerce and economic development.

Leung's revelation echoed the view of Wong, who believes there was "not interference from Beijing but interference within Hong Kong", implicitly referring to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

While the medical lawmaker said he felt no pressure from liaison officials over his vote, a last-minute U-turn by Paul Tse Wai-chun raised speculation of intervention by the liaison office.

The geographical lawmaker, who had initially pledged to support the special powers motion, admitted he was approached by mainland officials.

"I changed my stance after considering opinions from all sides … including that of Beijing's offices in Hong Kong," said Tse. But his vote did not affect the outcome as pan-democrats secured a majority among lawmakers from geographical constituencies.

Beijing-loyalist Ng Leung-sing of the finance constituency said it was normal for the liaison office to maintain such contact.

"As politicians concerned about Hong Kong's development and success, the [liaison office] as Beijing's representative should, and in reality does, maintain reasonable communications. This is totally beneficial and in no way harmful," said Ng. He said liaison officers aimed at deeper understanding, "not intervening or giving us instructions".

So said he knew nothing about the liaison office's encounters with lawmakers.

Henry Yeung Chi-ho, of HKTV staff union, said it was not the end of the fight, and the union backed a Legco motion to invoke special powers to allow HKTV to make confidential documents public.

"We will continue our fight for justice in every possible way," he said. "If we could not fight for the disclosure of these, we would never be able to sleep well."