There is no need to go back to the square one with plans for new free-TV licences if deliberations are not completed in the term of the present government, the commerce minister said yesterday.
Gregory So Kam-leung said the incoming cabinet of Leung Chun-ying could carry on the job with no requirement for new recommendations from the Communications Authority.
'If the Executive Council cannot finish it in time, there is no need for the [authority] to redo all things and re-submit recommendations to the new executive council for consideration,' So told legislators.
The minister was speaking at a meeting of the Legislative Council information technology and broadcasting panel, at which members criticised the government for dragging its feet and expressed fears that the free-TV issue would have to go back to the drawing board if the government could not issue new licences before its term ends this month.
Two of the free-TV applicants - PCCW and City Telecom (CTI) - also said a delay of up to 30 months was unreasonable.
So maintained that the government was following established procedure in handling the applications.
But he declined to discuss what the Executive Council had done after receiving the Broadcasting Authority report last July. The authority has been restructured and is now called the Communications Authority. 'The outcome will be announced after the chief executive in council makes a decision,' said So, adding: 'It is inappropriate for us to predict or speculate on when a decision would be made.'
CTI, i-Cable's Fantastic Television, and PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment have each submitted an application for a licence.
The most aggressive applicant is CTI, run by business maverick Ricky Wong Wai-kay. He has already sold off his telecom business to build a 500,000 sq ft multimedia centre and lure high-profile TV stars to his new station.
Fantastic TV was supposed to be the only free-to-air station in Hong Kong to run live broadcasts of the London Olympics after Cable TV secured sole broadcasting rights five years ago.
But under a last-minute deal between ATV and Cable TV, ATV agreed to pay a nominal US$1 for the rights to show the Games on its World channel. It will only be allowed to show 400 minutes of its commercials during the 250 hours of broadcasting, with i-Cable advertising shown the rest of the time.
The number of production crew and artistes CTI claims to have recruited for a new TV station as it awaits approval for a free-TV licence.