Asia Television's legal bid to stop the government granting three more free-to-air TV licences has hit a setback in the High Court.
Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon, of the Court of First Instance, dismissed ATV's application for leave to seek a judicial review yesterday after a short hearing.
The court ruled there was no legal merit in the grounds submitted by ATV, one of two holders of domestic free broadcasting licences along with Television Broadcasters (TVB).
The government has not made a final decision on the licences. However, on November 10, the Chief Executive in Council rejected ATV's objection to the Broadcasting Authority's recommendation that new free-to-air licenses be granted to City Telecom, Fantastic Television and HK Television Entertainment Company (HKTVE).
The authority had made its recommendation last summer and the licences were expected to be granted by October, but ATV's legal challenges have delayed the process.
Lam said there was no arguable case in ATV's submission, as the government had not made a final decision: 'The court does not interrupt the decision-making process.' The judge added that he believed the Broadcasting Authority had taken ATV's views into account before making its recommendation.
In the writ filed by ATV in February, the broadcaster said that while it was required to spend HK$2.3 billion on additional programming and capital investment from 2012 to 2015 in order to meet the terms of a midterm review of its licence, the three potential new licensees were only committed to invest at most HK$1 billion.
ATV argued the new market entrants could achieve a significant and unfair competitive advantage over the existing licensees.
City Telecom has pledged to spend HK$1 billion on programming in the initial years of City's free-to air channel. Fantastic TV has said it will allocate about HK$1 billion in capital and operating expenditure in the first six years, while HKTVE vowed to invest HK$600 million in three years.
A City Telecom spokeswoman welcomed the judgment, while an i-Cable Communications spokesman said: 'I hope licensing procedures can resume and there will be no further [interruptions].'
An ATV spokesman said the company was weighing its options.
The number of staff already recruited by City Telecom. Chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay hopes to hire a further 700 this year