TV licence decision 'against Exco norms', says ex-minister Joseph Wong
Ex-minister says awarding only two free-to-air TV licences despite dissent of key members was at odds with council's convention of consensus
Exco should not have made the controversial decision to award only two free-to-air TV licences at its meeting on October 15 because three key members expressed dissent, a former minister said.
The decision was backed by six of the nine non-official Exco members present, according to sources familiar with the matter. And three of the top officials present played a passive role during the discussion, they said.
Joseph Wong Wing-ping, a former secretary for commerce, industry and technology, said: "It was not an ideal situation for the chief executive to decide to grant just two licences when three out of nine non-official members present expressed dissenting views.
"On paper, the chief executive is empowered to make the ruling on behalf of the Exco even if a significant number of members hold dissenting views. But it goes against the convention of the Exco, which emphasises consensus politics."
Five of the 14 non-official Exco members were absent for reasons including the avoidance of a potential conflict of interest.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, and Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung were the official members present. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Cheng Yiu-tong and Cheung Chi-kong were among the six non-official councillors who favoured issuing two rather than three licences, thereby denying one to Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television Network.
It is understood that Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and Anna Wu Hung-yuk were in favour of issuing three licences.
Wong said Exco should have discussed the issue at a later date instead of making the announcement after the meeting.
"It was unimaginable for the Executive Council in the colonial era to make a decision which was not supported by then senior Exco member Chung Sze-yuen," he said, referring to Lam Woon-kwong's preference for awarding three licences.
Exco adopts the principle of collective responsibility and there is no formal vote. Councillors simply expressed their views to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying before he ruled on behalf of the council.
One of the sources said: "The chief secretary, financial secretary and justice secretary were passive during the discussion. They seldom expressed their views though they followed the mainstream view [to grant two licences] eventually."
Joseph Wong said it was not surprising that the three top ministers kept a low profile during Exco's deliberations, as they should have fully expressed their views at earlier meetings of the policy committee, which comprises all principal officials and which formulates and prioritises policies.
Another source said the discussion paper submitted by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau for Exco's discussion did not propose awarding two licences.
Exco's decision also deviated from the Broadcasting Authority's recommendation in 2011 that all three licences be granted.
Video: Thousands of HKTV supporters gather again at government HQ to protests against decision to deny channel a licence