Broadcasting authorities are being urged to draw up new television laws to replace existing regulations which one TV station has described as 'fragmented and piecemeal'.
The move is part of a review - similar to one abandoned during the handover - of the fast-changing industry.
Wharf Cable has told the Broadcasting, Culture and Sport Bureau it should make a new television ordinance a priority. Responding to an invitation for television stations' views, Wharf said it would greatly enhance confidence as the Government appeared to be moving towards deregulating the industry - a move which could allow more stations.
The call comes after officials dropped plans to introduce a Broadcasting Bill in 1996 amid controversy. One senior bureaucrat hinted it was too difficult to obtain China's consent to changes in the regulatory environment during the transition.
But his superiors said they merely wanted to concentrate on pay television and the introduction of video-on-demand.
The Government's outline of the present review does not include any reference to a comprehensive overhaul of legislation and only indicates it will reconsider ownership restrictions, licensing issues, royalties, fees, content and language controls, and advertising restrictions.
Wharf said television policy should be outlined in legislation and not as preambles to regulations or codes of practice, or in ad hoc, opportunistic policy announcements.
It said the new ordinance should be a prerequisite to any opening of the market, with maximum industry consultation, and with government commitment to avoid the piecemeal and fragmented approach which had characterised television legislation in recent years.
Wharf interpreted the calls for submissions as a move towards further deregulation with a more open-market approach which could allow more stations.
It said economic studies should be presented to the industry showing more competitors could exist, particularly given the present economic difficulties.
Wharf said new laws were essential before more licences were issued.
It called for legislation to spell out the principles of the Government's television policy, ways to encourage local programming, principles for complaint procedures, measures to address market dominance and procedures for issuing new licences.
The Government will issue a public paper next month and also seek submissions from the public.