The public uproar caused by the government's rejection of a free-to-air licence for Ricky Wong Wai-kay's HKTV grew yesterday as staff expressed support for Wong despite the announcement of 320 lay-offs at the station.
Last night, 417,000 web users had "liked" a Facebook page urging the government to issue a licence to HKTV.
The view on the street, meanwhile, was that political considerations were behind the decision to award licences to two bidders backed by big corporations, iCable and PCCW, while excluding maverick Wong.
Edward Pang, an outside broadcast crew member who joined HKTV's predecessor HK Broadband Network seven years ago, said news of lay-offs came as a shock "but it seems we've no choice but to accept the outcome".
"I haven't had high hopes ever since C.Y. Leung became chief executive last year … The Lord will help Mr Wong," Pang said, adding he expected to be fired.
Online marketing staff member Chan Ka-wai said he understood Wong's decision and was not worried about finding another job.
"But I don't think we will enjoy such room for creative freedom anywhere else," he said.
"Everyone at HKTV has the passion to bring about a sea change in the local TV scene … we have no regrets for doing what is right," Chan said.
"[The government's decision] has, in effect, denied anyone who dares to dream in Hong Kong."
Wong was said to have been in tears as he announced the lay-offs to staff and had offered his thoughts to sacked employees who had families.
The South China Morning Post talked to 10 people in Times Square yesterday and got the same reaction: the government's decision lacked transparency and its explanation was not valid.
Six of the 10 said the decision was driven by "political considerations" and some believed the government wanted to punish Ricky Wong as he was "rebellious and too aggressive".
"If someone's dead, you have to give a reason why. You can't just trash talk and say something like 'gradual and orderly approach'," finance industry worker Cathy Chan, 29, said.
"Everybody wants to watch TV, not only TVB ... the public can tell Ricky Wong Wai-kay has the heart to make a difference."
Accountant Jenny Tso, 35, said the public were the direct consumers of free-to-air television and could not understand why Fantastic TV and PCCW's HK Television were eligible for licences, but HKTV was not.
"The decision makes me wonder, is Hong Kong still a free market?" she asked.
Manager Brian Lee, 50, said the government's explanations were rubbish.
"The real reason is obvious - the government fears Ricky Wong Wai-kay won't support it or the central government."
Phone-in radio programmes in the morning were also flooded with angry viewers.
On Commercial Radio, a Mr Lo said: "We are unhappy because we are deprived of TV dramas. I-Cable and [PCCW] have no plans to film dramas, but all of us want them, especially the elderly."
A Ms Chan said suggestions that Wong did not have enough experience were irrelevant.
"[ATV executive director] James Shing and [investor] Wong Ching had no experience as well. Eddie Ng Hak-kim does not have experience related to education [but] he was able to become secretary for education," she said.