FOR THE first time, would-be pay-TV operator Wharf Cable has been given public government approval for its franchise bid, the only one received by the Hongkong administration last year. But the Executive Council has only agreed ''in principle'' to award Wharf the subscription television licence. The final go-ahead is still subject to consultation with the Chinese and the enactment of the Television (Amendment) Bill 1993. Wharf welcomed yesterday's announcement. Managing director, Mr Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, said: ''Another important step has been taken towards introducing this much demanded service to Hongkong. ''Under the terms of the licence, Wharf Cable will be given nine months from award to launch its service. We therefore look forward to the early enactment of the Television (Amendment) Bill 1993 and the positive outcome of the Government's consultation with the Chinese as soon as possible,'' Mr Ng added. But another Wharf executive cautioned that without the full licence, the company's pay-TV plans would remain constrained. On Wednesday, Chinese representatives of the Joint Liaison Group were handed a copy of the licence approved by Wharf, the Recreation and Culture Branch and the Legal Department. Industry insiders are hoping the Chinese will approve the 12-year pay-TV franchise at a plenary session, expected to take place in Hongkong next month.