HKTV denies agreement to take over rival ATV hours after shock announcement
Hong Kong Television Network has not reached any agreement with the beleaguered free-to-air broadcaster Asia Television on buying its shares, the company said on Wednesday morning, in another twist to events.
In an announcement made on the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing’s website, HKTV admitted its chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay met ATV major investor Wong Ching on March 26.
It said however: "No agreement or agreement in principle has been reached by Mr Ricky Wong, whether or not on behalf of the company with anyone with regard to the possible transaction.
"The company has not entered into any discussions with the joint and several managers of ATV appointed by the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," the statement from HKTV added.
The denial came just hours after an announcement was made during ATV’s Chinese-language newscast that de facto boss Wong Ching had agreed to sell his controlling stake to HKTV’s maverick chief Ricky Wong. According to the report, Wong Ching and Wong Ben-koon, who holds a total 52.4 per cent stake in ATV on paper, had accepted Ricky Wong’s offer for the stake.
ATV vice-president Lau Lan-cheong said on Wednesday that the announcement on Tuesday was "accurate" in that it reflected the station’s own decision.
"Our news yesterday accurately reported on our company’s decision. This is because ATV decided to sell shares to Ricky Wong – but whether Wong will accept the offer was another news item to be followed," Lau said at the station’s headquarters in Tai Po.
He said that ATV made the decision on Tuesday and the shareholders hoped to announce the news in time. He said he was not worried that the image and credibility of ATV news would be tarnished.
ATV’s announcement stunned industry insiders, particularly because Ricky Wong had repeatedly denied he would do any such deal with the station he once ran for 12 days.
They described it as a slap in the face for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was evasive when asked about ATV on Tuesday morning. Leung would only say ATV’s licence was being handled according to established procedures and the law.
The Executive Council was due to hold a special meeting on ATV on Wednesday – arranged before Tuesday’s shock announcement – to discuss whether to renew the cash-strapped broadcaster’s free-to-air licence, due to expire in November.
Accountants from Deloitte were earlier appointed by the court as ATV managers to sell a 10.75 per cent stake from major shareholder Wong Ben-koon, a relative of mainland investor Wong Ching.
HKTV said in the notice that the March 26 meeting was to exchange and discuss preliminary ideas on how assistance may be provided to assist in ATV’s operations and a renewal of its domestic free television programme service licence.
Former secretary for commerce and economic development Frederick Ma Si-hang said ATV could have possibly breached laws by issuing false information relating to sale of its shares.
Ma said he believed the Securities and Futures Commission, the market watchdog, would launch an insider trading probe over the matter.
Ma said ATV’s announcement on Tuesday – which he described as shocking – led HKTV’s stock prices to rise.
"So should anyone have benefited from the information ... I think the SFC would take the initiative to investigate," he told Commercial Radio.
The commission said it would not comment on individual cases, when asked whether a probe would be launched.
HKTV shares jumped 75 cents, or 24.42 per cent, to HK$3.82 – the highest since the beginning of this year – at one stage on Wednesday morning.