My Take

Foot-dragging over Hong Kong radio licence renewals smacks of political interference

Commerce minister Greg So was apparently too busy with other issues, yet the broadcasters have now had to agree to be ‘impartial’ in their news feeds

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2016, 1:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2016, 1:48am

Commerce and economic development bureau chief Greg So Kam-leung is not a multitasker. When asked why it took so long for his bureau and the Executive Council to renew the licences of Commercial Radio and Metro Broadcast, a government source claimed it was partly because So was too preoccupied by the now failed copyright amendment bill.

If that were true and the filibustering fight over the bill by pan-democratic lawmakers had dragged on much longer, we might be in danger of having two of the city’s leading radio broadcasters taken off the air. Something like that has already happened in television broadcasting. ATV and HKTV, anyone?

The radio licence renewals were finally announced this week, just five months before Commercial Radio and Metro’s licences were due to expire and 10 months after the Communications Authority recommended renewal for both broadcasters.

Considering the licences last for 12 years and that it involves two dominant players in a key media industry, it seems too much like a haphazard decision. This is no way for a regulator to act.

Or perhaps So and other government insiders were just delighted to watch bosses at Commercial Radio sweat over it. The station, after all, has no shortage of programmes featuring critics of the Leung Chun-ying administration. At the height of the Occupy protests, it could be accused of supporting the movement.

If that’s the case, Metro, which features more financial news, has been the innocent bystander.

In what must be seen as a victory of sorts for So, the two radio stations have been committed to “review and revise their written guidelines to strengthen guidance to their staff to ensure strict compliance with the impartiality requirements [for factual programmes]”.

It’s surprising this licensing condition didn’t cause more public debate in the current political climate. It affects Metro far less than it does Commercial Radio. Does it mean the station has to rein in its hosts to take it easy on the government?

Let the critics speak, So seems to say, but remember to give equal time to present the government’s side. Don’t we already have RTHK for that?

So said there was no political angle in considering licensing conditions. That may be so. But it doesn’t mean the decision has no serious political implications.