Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday denied he over-ruled a majority of his cabinet to reject the application of Ricky Wong Wai-kay's company for a free-to-air television licence.
But his remarks in the morning failed to clear the clouds over the decision-making process, and Wong later asked whether the chief executive had become bigger than the law.
Leung said many reports of the past few days that quoted Executive Council members holding a different view from the government were "untrue", but hinted that the exclusion of Wong's HKTV was not a unanimous decision.
"From my experience, it is very rare for Exco members to agree on a certain subject unanimously," he said after a meeting of the council yesterday. "While the Basic Law allows the chief executive to not accept the majority opinion of the Exco - and put the specific reasons on record - it has never happened.
"The chief executive seeks advice from Exco members and he will not go against the advice from the majority of Exco."
Controversy has surrounded Exco - which comprises all principal officials and 14 non-official members - since Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung refused to reveal the reasons for the decision, citing the council's rule of confidentiality.
But a number of members, including Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, called on the government to explain its decision after tens of thousands rallied outside government headquarters on Sunday.
Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong said members acted as "advisers" and the final decision was made after the chief executive had consulted with them.
"We have to be responsible for a decision collectively, no matter whether individual members agree or disagree with it," he said.
Meanwhile, commerce minister So became emotional in front of the cameras when he talked of HKTV staff. "I think nobody wants to see a decision affect the jobs of other people," he said.
Wong responded: "My actors need their emotions for their work. But as a bureau chief, it doesn't matter what emotions you have. You just follow policy."