THE Government has apparently buried its plan for an omnibus broadcasting bill because of fears of another flare-up with China. Beijing has not been asked what it thinks about consolidating control of broadcasting in a single piece of legislation. Acting Secretary for Recreation and Culture Fred Ting Fook-cheung admitted in a meeting with legislators that introduction of the bill would be untimely. Drafting of the bill began two years ago and had now been suspended, he said, adding that the 180-page document could easily be resurrected. Last night, Mr Ting and a Government spokesman emphasised that the bill 'was still on the drawing board'. 'It could not be introduced to the Legislative Council this session . . . Maybe next session.' A remark that the bill had been shelved may not have been intended and drew fierce attacks from legislators. They claimed the move demonstrated the administration was a lame duck. The branch decided two years ago that it would be sensible to bring the four existing pieces of legislation on broadcasting media into a single bill. The all-embracing legislation would also help cover new technology such as video-on-demand. Speaking at a Legco panel on recreation and culture matters, Mr Ting said there would be political backlash if the bill proceeded at the wrong time. 'If we raise the bill now, we have to discuss it with China. It might take another year or so. It's 1997 by then,' he said. 'Under the present circumstances, a smooth political transition is very important, even more than prosperity.' Mr Ting said it was not known how China would react, adding that officials had yet to formally discuss the matter with the Chinese side. But he said the Hong Kong administration believed broadcasting was a sensitive issue. Describing the past two years of drafting work as a 'half-baked chestnut cake', he said the ingredients would not be wasted and the contents could be incorporated into other existing legislation. Some panel members attacked the government decision as another cowardly move by the sunset administration. But Liberal Party legislator Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said the dropping of the bill was not regrettable. She said the broadcasting industry had not asked for one. The Government had wasted resources in drafting the massive bill because of its lack of foresight and political acumen, Ms Chow said. Mr Ting has also cited the China factor as one of the reasons to drop the idea of a public access channel. The official, now acting for the retiring James So Yiu-cho, last night played down the China factor. 'You don't necessarily have to have a new omnibus broadcasting bill to achieve our overall policy objective,' he said. Mr Ting said circumstances had changed in the past two years, but failed to specify what made officials change their thoughts. 'In the process of drafting, we found that we didn't want to open a can with a two-tonne sledge-hammer. 'The present situation is that we have different laws on broadcasting in different drawers. If you have an omnibus, you can get it from one drawer . . . 'But even if we don't have the bill, it won't affect our control over the industry,' Mr Ting said. The bottom line, he said, was that freedom of expression was safeguarded. Mr Ting attributed the necessity to change the existing legislation to the introduction of the video-on-demandservice. 'But it won't be officially launched in a year. We have enough time to try to accommodate it in the existing legislation,' he said. Cable TV said it was surprised by the Government's decision to continue to deal with broadcasting matters in a piecemeal manner. 'The Broadcasting Bill would have provided a practical long-term licensing framework to meet the rapidly changing broadcasting environment,' it said. The Government has said that video-on-demand should be properly regulated under the existing Television Ordinance. 'However, unless all new TV operators including those offering service by the video technology are subject to the established open competitive bidding and due licensing process, there can be no level playing field,' Cable TV said.