The government hit back yesterday at Ricky Wong Wai-kay's allegations that was it deliberately blocking him from launching his television business.
It said Wong's current plan for his HKTV mobile television service would breach the law without a licence. Free-to-air leader TVB also stepped into the row, accusing Wong of reinventing HKTV as "de facto domestic free TV without a licence" by upgrading its broadcasting standards.
Wong, who was told on Tuesday that he must not launch a mobile TV service if he did not change his plan, denied his service was free TV in disguise.
Eliza Lee Man-ching, director-general of communications in the Office of the Communications Authority, said the office contacted HKTV in January after learning of its intention to upgrade its transmission standard from China Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting (CMMB ) to the much finer Digital Terrestrial Multimedia Broadcasting (DTMB). On January 24, it gave a "friendly reminder" the change might make the station liable to the Broadcasting Ordinance.
"If HKTV adopted the DTMB standard, more than two million households would be able to watch its programmes on TV at home," deputy director-general of telecommunications Danny Lau Kwong-cheung said.
The number would exceed 5,000 households, a threshold which triggers the licensing requirement. No external receiver was needed to watch DTMB transmissions, he added.
TVB said it used DTMB, which covered 99 per cent of the population, as the transmission standard for its five digital terrestrial television channels.
HKTV's plan to use the same standard and become a "de facto" free service was the reason it terminated Wong's lease of TVB's hilltop transmission sites.
"We may also be legally liable if the unlawful broadcast is transmitted from our hilltop sites," a spokesman said.
Government sources said the Broadcasting Ordinance and Telecommunications Ordinance - attacked by legal experts for being outdated and leaving "grey areas" - would be reviewed.
The sources refused to comment on whether the government had assessed the extent of public anger over its denial of a new free-to-air licence to Wong, after which he launched his plan for a mobile service.
"We regret that this has interrupted [Wong's] plan, but we did not target Wong or anyone," one senior government source said. "We too want him to succeed. But there is a legal issue here."
HKTV chairman Wong had hoped to make a comeback with a mobile service through the HK$142 million acquisition of mobile TV licensee China Mobile Hong Kong Corporation.
The authority suggested HKTV adopt another transmission standard, but Wong questioned whether he would fall into a legal trap if future TV sets were upgraded to receive other signals without any external devices.
Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said the government owed the public an explanation for blocking HKTV.
HKTV shares, suspended on Tuesday, resumed trading yesterday. Prices fell by 22 per cent.
Additional reporting by Ada Lee and Jeffie Lam