The government will not speed up Cable TV's application for a free-to-air licence to enable it to broadcast the London Olympics.
This statement yesterday by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung left concerns that only pay-TV subscribers would be able to watch the Games live.
So told legislators that the application and the games broadcast were separate matters and any interference from the government in the broadcast could have an impact on Hong Kong's free market.
He called on Cable TV and the two free channels, TVB and ATV, to reach a deal to 'meet public expectations'.
i-Cable Communications, which runs Cable TV, won the Hong Kong rights to the games five years ago and its new free-to-air subsidiary, Fantastic TV, if licensed in time, would be the only free channel in the city to show the events live. Its application, filed in January 2010, has yet to be approved by the Executive Council.
The games will run from July 27 to August 12. Cable TV director William Kwan Jut-ho said last month that even if Exco approved the application immediately it would be impossible to get a licence in time.
In the Legislative Council yesterday, So said the bidding for broadcasting rights of sports events involved commercial decisions. 'It will thus be most desirable for the broadcasting arrangements to be decided through commercial negotiations.'
He added that the public could watch the games online, in shopping malls, pubs and restaurants.
Lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said it would be a backward step if only pay-TV subscribers could watch the games.
Cable TV says neither free channel has approached it, but TVB says it has had preliminary talks.
City Telecom and PCCW are also awaiting approval for a free-to-air licence.