Tycoon unveils push to make ATV Asia's CNN - and city's conscience

Struggling ATV aims to be not just Asia's CNN but the conscience of Hong Kong, as a terrestrial broadcaster with a Putonghua channel carried nationwide, according to a master plan announced yesterday.

Shenzhen property tycoon Wang Zheng unveiled the plan in his first appearance at ATV's headquarters in Tai Po since its major shareholder, Payson Cha Mou-sing, confirmed he had agreed to sell his stake to Wang earlier this month.

Wang also said four new directors - all of them his relatives - had been added to the ATV board, but he would not say who they replaced.

He was at ATV for the media briefing of a new event which he masterminded, the Hong Kong Top 10 Loving Hearts Selection Campaign.

Wang said the transaction for his stake purchase had yet to be completed but he was working as a 'volunteer' at ATV, without a proper office, and had mapped out the firm's long- and mid-term goals.

He said the ultimate aim was to turn ATV into Asia's CNN, so that those interested in Asia worldwide would watch ATV every day. But in the medium term, Wang pitched ATV as the voice of Hong Kong, representing the spirit and values of the city.

He recalled the kindness of strangers when he came to Hong Kong 19 years ago on a monthly salary of HK$5,000. At that time he met Lim Por-yen, whose family was ATV's biggest investor in the 1990s. 'Whenever Lim talked about ATV, he always said 'ai ya'. He lost HK$700 million from running ATV. He said he had never lost so much money,' Wang said.

Wang admired Lim's work ethic, noting that he would jog and read the newspaper at the same time. 'Perhaps this could be the Hong Kong spirit,' he said. But Lim's losses did not dampen Wang's enthusiasm for the television industry. Money was widely thought to be ATV's problem, but Wang said there was more to the broadcaster's troubles.

'ATV needs to find its new direction. It's the development direction and method that matter,' Wang said. 'And also talent.'

He said ATV should launch a Putonghua channel, noting that TV stations in Hong Kong and Macau were allowed to make one channel available nationwide via the cable network and that TVB, Phoenix and Star all had nationwide channels.

'What about ATV? Why don't we have such channels?' he said. 'ATV's only problem is that we still do not have a Putonghua channel - years after the handover. Now, at least one-third of the population can speak or understand Putonghua. It is a must to have a Putonghua channel.'

Wang also insisted the strategic deals signed by ATV in Beijing last week with five mainland firms - China Life Insurance, China Merchants, China Overseas Group, Bank of Beijing and GDH - did not have political implications.

'They are all my friends, mentors and teachers,' he said. 'At the beginning they were really worried [about the ATV investment], but later on they began to understand and felt they should show some support.'

But Wang declined to comment on when his stake purchase would go through, or the war of words between shareholders Cha and Tsai Eng-meng. He would not comment on today's hearing of Tsai's application for an interim injunction against Cha and other parties.

Ip Ka-po, ATV's special projects and public relations vice-president, said ATV would put out guidelines to prevent corruption after TVB general manager Stephen Chan Chi-wan and others were arrested by graftbusters.