Commerce minister Greg So hits back in row over TV licences

After criticism from consultancy, Greg So denies accusation that the firm's report was misquoted to justify rejection of HKTV's application

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 9:00am

The row over free-television licences continued yesterday as the commerce minister rejected a consultancy's allegations that the government misquoted its report to justify rejecting Hong Kong Television Network's (HKTV) application.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said the administration regretted the claims made by Value Partners two weeks ago.

The firm's managing partner Jenny Ng Pui-ying accused the government on November 18 of changing its policy arbitrarily, from having no licence cap to choosing two out of three applications without consultation.

She alleged it had quoted out of context her firm's report on the competitive landscape of the free-television market.

So fended off Ng's criticism yesterday. "The consultant has openly expressed some personal views on the Executive Council's decision [to reject HKTV's bid]. It has confused the public," he told the Legislative Council's panel on information technology and broadcasting.

"I have to clarify ... the government has never asked the consultant to comment on the gradual and orderly approach of introducing competition or whether the three applications should be approved. Nor has [it] claimed the decision was based on the consultant's recommendation. Disclosing related details of discussions before getting the consensus of its client neglects the fundamental conduct of being a consultant … We very much regret that the consultant has chosen to be involved in the political discussion."

Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing responded: "Are you saying that if [firms] want to win government ventures, they have to say what the government wants to hear?"

Ng could not be reached for comment. Value Partners submitted four reports before So revealed on October 15 that licences would go to iCable's Fantastic Television and PCCW's HK Entertainment Network.

Meanwhile, ATV said it did not see obstacles to renewing its licence, due to expire on November 30, 2015, despite prolonged deficits, repeated heavy penalties, alleged mismanagement and shareholder disputes.

New executive director Louie King-bun pledged to invest no less than HK$2.3 billion - which ATV had promised for the period of 2009-15, the second half of its 12-year licence term.

Louie said ATV would focus on non-drama and current affairs shows in the lead-up to the chief executive election in 2017.

"The golden era of Hong Kong dramas has long gone," he said. "Just like some people have said, perhaps Ricky Wong Wai-kay [of HKTV] was lucky he did not get the licence." HKTV focuses on drama productions.