Two new free-TV licences approved, but backlash over HKTV's exclusion

Demand for explanation after HKTV network is denied licence despite earlier recommendation, while online supporters plan weekend protest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 7:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 9:49am

Two new free television licences were yesterday awarded to i-Cable's Fantastic TV and PCCW's HK Television Entertainment Company.

But the government decision drew fire for failing to explain why the application of Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television Network was rejected.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said the chief executive and Executive Council had approved in principle the issuing of the two licences.

The stations are expected to start two new channels in a year after securing their licences.

A senior government source said a consultant's report had shown HKTV, previously known as City Telecom, to be the weakest applicant, and that Exco approved the licences "on merit with no political considerations".

But the rejection of HKTV's application, which was against the Broadcasting Authority's earlier recommendation that all three licences be granted, prompted a swift backlash. By 1.30am today, a Facebook page calling upon the government to issue a licence to HKTV had attracted some 256,000 "likes". Internet users were also preparing a protest on Sunday.

Asked if the deviation from the Broadcasting Authority's recommendation would be against procedural justice, So said the authority made recommendations not decisions. He said Exco had considered "a basket of criteria" including programme planning, technical soundness, investment and public opinion.

But he refused to explain why HKTV was considered inferior to its competitors. HKTV can't appeal to Exco against the decision, but it can file a judicial review in court, he said.

HKTV said it needed time before it would comment, while TVB and ATV asked the government to spell out its reasoning in granting the licences.

The door is not completely closed on Wong's HKTV, said the government source, adding that there was no "ceiling" on new TV licences, and the government could consider whether there was a need for more in the future.

According to proposals filed to the government, i-Cable and PCCW pledged to put in more than HK$1 billion in the first six years and HK$600 million in the first three years of operation respectively. In 2010, the then-City Telecom vowed to invest HK$1 billion in six years, but had already spent at least HK$300 million on programme production.

A poll by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme in June indicated that 63.1 per cent of 514 respondents supported issuing a licence to HKTV, the highest approval rate among the applicants.

So said the decision reflected a "gradual and orderly approach" to introducing competition to the TV market by a "fair, transparent and just" process.