The latest penalties by the Communication Authority on ATV should be seen as an ultimatum for the broadcaster to put its house in order. Executive Director James Shing Pan-yu has been criticised for breaching licensing terms by allowing investor Wong Ching to interfere with day-to-day operations, even though Wong, who is neither shareholder nor director, has no role in management.
According to the watchdog, Shing has tampered with meeting records to play down Wong's involvement. In the toughest-ever punishment, it ordered Shing to be removed, along with a maximum HK$1 million fine. The penalty is a stern warning that the broadcaster has to adhere to the rules and keep away undue interference. ATV yesterday protested outside the government headquarters and pledged to lodge an appeal to the Executive Council.
ATV has been struggling for years to survive. Despite some programmes with good feedback in the past, it remains the underdog. Hopes were high that Wong and Shing could turn the tide when they took over. Sadly, three years have passed but there is no visible improvement.
The airwaves, as a public resource, are too precious to be wasted. Viewers' interests are not served if one of the only two free-to-air broadcasters is not seen as making the best of what is entrusted to it. Choices are further limited as the government holds off on deciding on new licence applications.
Hong Kong prides itself on being pro-competition. With a population of seven million, the television industry certainly has room for more than a handful of pay and free television broadcasters. The government should recognise public aspirations for more competition and make a decision on new licences as soon as possible.
The commerce and economic development chief Greg So Kam-leung has rightly warned that ATV's licence could be revoked if the terms are not followed. As a licensee, ATV should adhere to the conditions and do a better job.