Calls for government to explain denial of free-TV licence to HKTV mount

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 8:45am

More current and former executive councillors are urging the government to explain its rejection of Hong Kong Television Network's bid for a free-to-air television licence, as consensus builds across the political spectrum that a third licence should be granted.

The mounting pressure comes as HKTV staff continue their sit-in outside government headquarters after a march brought tens of thousands of protesters to Tamar on Sunday.

Calls for an explanation came from Exco member Starry Lee Wai-king and former Exco member Henry Tang Ying-yen, while executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee suggested HKTV could appeal.

The government, meanwhile, issued its sixth statement - including officials' public speeches - since its controversial announcement last week granting licences to i-Cable's Fantastic TV and PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment but not to Ricky Wong Wai-kay's HKTV.

It reiterated its stock position that the decision included "no political consideration" and was made after the assessment of "all relevant factors".

Pan-democrats have shown support for a joint petition planned by pro-government lawmaker James Tien Pei-chun to press for a licence for HKTV.

But at the same time they are seeking to invoke the Legislative Council's special powers to demand official documents behind the government's deliberations.

Tien called the letter, to be submitted to the chief executive and Exco, the "swiftest way" to resolve the saga.

"I have not heard from any parties that oppose the issue of all three licences so far," Tien said.

"If [Legco] were to investigate, it would take months ... If a licence is granted to HKTV now, staff can go back to work."

Pan-democrats including members of the Civic Party and Democratic Party said they supported Tien's proposal "in principle", depending on the final wording of the letter.

The 27-member camp is seeking to invoke the Legco (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance through the information technology and broadcasting panel to force the disclosure of all documents submitted by the administration to Exco, including consultancy reports.

Lee, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the government should consider disclosing further details despite HKTV's pending judicial review.

She said the party would decide on the powers and privileges invocation after hearing officials' explanation at next month's IT panel meeting.

Suggesting an appeal by HKTV, Ip, of the pro-government New People's Party, said: "The Exco receives a lot of appeal pleas. We would carefully consider a request from the failed applicant."

Fellow party member Michael Tien Puk-sun said he "cannot see why" he should vote down the pan-democrats' motion for an inquiry "if the government remains silent and refuses to disclose more information".

Tang, who spent 14 years on Exco, said the government owed the public an explanation.

The confidentiality rule did not mean the government had to keep the rationale behind the issuing of licences confidential, he said.

Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said the government had to evaluate whether it should reverse the rejection.

"The government has its own reasons … but it has to consider whether they are sufficiently important that it cannot change its original decision," he said.

Civil servants were surprised by the decision, as all the paperwork for three licences had been submitted to Exco.

"The bureau did the work and all the efforts were wasted," Federation of Civil Service Unions chief executive Leung Chau-ting said.

Watch: HKTV supporters gather at Hong Kong government to protest against failed licence bid for second night