Hong Kong government should have granted HKTV a free-to-air licence, commerce minister says

Greg So reveals he nearly cried as move in 2013 to deny licence to broadcaster would mean job losses for some 300 staff, but maintains he respects ‘collective decision’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 June, 2017, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 4:29pm

Hong Kong’s outgoing commerce minister said on Monday he personally believed ill-fated broadcaster HKTV should have been granted a TV licence, a view which runs counter to that of his boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying.

Greg So Kam-leung, who will be leaving his post at the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau next month, revealed he almost cried over nearly four years ago when he had to announce the government’s “collective decision” on HKTV which would put some 300 of the company’s employees out of work.

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In 2013, Leung and his advisers rejected an application by outspoken businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay for a free-to-air licence due to a “basket of factors”. The factors are still unknown.

The rejection then sparked a public outcry, as many questioned if the decision was politically driven.

“At the time, I suggested three licences should be granted because I believe in competition,” So said on a RTHK programme on Monday. Only i-Cable’s Fantastic TV and PCCW’s HK Television Entertainment Company were awarded licences.

“I tried my best to convince the members at the Executive Council meeting, but I also had to respect the collective decision,” he added. “I was trying not to cry when announcing the news [as some 300 people would lose their jobs],” he said.

However, when asked about his feelings over implementing a decision he did not believe in, the official said: “It was part of my responsibilities ... I had to explain to the public. This is the spirit of accountability system.”

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So also spoke on the ongoing battle for legalisation by ride-hailing operator Uber on the same radio programme, questioning if the city should amend its regulations to accommodate a “sharing economy”.

Last month, 22 Uber drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving without a hire car permit and third-party insurance.

“Is it impossible for Hong Kong to have a sharing economy? I don’t think so,” he said.

So urged the government to consider if existing legislations were preventing the new economy from developing in the city.

“If its business model does not contradict the objectives behind our legislations, shouldn’t we consider amending the law to allow better development for a sharing economy?”

So, who said he did not intend to join incoming leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s new administration, aimed to take six months off from July before deciding on his next move.