My Take

It’s time to put dying broadcaster ATV out of its misery

Band-aid solution to keep Hong Kong’s oldest television station going for another three weeks turns long-running drama into a farce

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 1:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 1:51am

ATV has an unfortunate history of having mainland investors taking bizarre and inexplicable actions that contributed to its inevitable demise. The latest comes courtesy of mainland media investor Si Rongbin.

Already on its last legs, Si claimed to have put the TV station on life support by having his representatives splash what they claimed was HK$10 million in cash to rehire staff and continue broadcasting until its licence expires on April 1.

Provisional liquidator Deloitte China, which was all set to wind up ATV, was somehow convinced to go along with Si’s scheme. Apparently some of the cash, along with bank guarantees, will be used to pay about 160 staff who are already owed two months’ wages but willing to stay on until the end of the month. So far so good, until someone reads the fine print.

Those who stay on have to sign a contract that prevents them from seeking prior wages owed until after April 2. What happens after that date, when the TV station shuts down? Will Si and his mainland media company help pay wages owed? Unlikely.

Deloitte will presumably proceed to liquidate the company. Under Hong Kong laws, ATV staff have first claims before the station’s creditors. Why not shut down ATV now? That would actually be in the interests of staff.

For once, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung is doing the right thing by denouncing the contracts offered by Si as contravening labour laws. “If an agreement prevents or reduces the provision of rights, interests and protection covered by the Employment Ordinance, this agreement is invalid,” he said.

Continuing ATV’s broadcasts until its licence expires may seem to serve the public. But given its dwindling viewership, it hardly matters now. Yes, it’s highly unfortunate Hong Kong will soon have only one free-to-air TV station – TVB – thereby forcing more people to spend money on pay TV. For that, Gregory So Kam-leung, the secretary for commerce and economic development, bears direct responsibility for denying HKTV a well-deserved free-to-air licence. Government regulators like So are helping to run local broadcasting into the ground. But that’s a different issue.

For now, it’s in everyone’s interest to put ATV out of its misery.