Wednesday, October 23, 2013, 08:22
Politics played no part in HKTV license decision: CE
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Reasons for license denial to reach the High Court on Wong’s plan to file judicial review

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (CE) reiterated on Tuesday that politics played no part in his decision in the Executive Council (ExCo) to deny Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) a free-to-air television broadcast license. HKTV Chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay also said the result did not involve central government.

Following a Sunday rally of more than 20,000 people, the government’s rationale behind the decision to deny HKTV the right to enter the market will be examined in court, when HKTV files a judicial review in three weeks.

The negative result was given by ExCo last week and subsequent explanations by the CE and other officials have failed to satisfy the ousted applicant and its laid-off employees.

While the CE and the HKTV founder did not agree on many technical details of the application process on Tuesday, they both said it was baseless for critics to speculate on Beijing’s role in local television policy.

Leung repeated four times that politics was not involved when he and ExCo members discussed the licensing issue.

“We had absolutely no political consideration,” he said. “Based on the media coverage, we can all believe that Mr Wong is neither a political man, nor does he hold a political stance. Our considerations were comprehensive, but politics was not a factor.”

Wong also said he had a clean record in politics at a news conference later in the day.

“If the ‘politics’ you were talking about involves the central government, I can tell you with utter certainty that to my knowledge, that is not the case,” Wong said. “I don’t believe the decision was driven by the rumored intervention from central government.”

Wong also urged his disgruntled staff to end its camp-out at government headquarters ahead of an even longer battle — HKTV will seek to have the decision overturned at the High Court in three weeks time, insisting that the administration failed to uphold procedural justice.

Leung said at the morning briefing that all three applicants were informed of the “gradual and orderly” approach in advance. But Wong argued he only learned of the position in a letter received in May and no change was permitted to be made to their proposals at that time.

In 1998, the government told the Legislative Council (LegCo) that applications for domestic free licenses would be considered with “no limit on the number” of licenses. Wong accused the government of ditching a policy in the middle of a procedure without public consultation.

Wong also said a high-ranking female official had promised him a license if all technical criteria were met. HKTV won a recommendation from the Broadcasting Authority (now the Communications Authority) and all four consultancy reports, as told by Wong, put the overall strength of HKTV at second or higher among the three applicants.

Wong said he had been acting with tolerance over the past week, but his sentiments reached a “critical point” on Tuesday as he felt the administration has not been sincere in bringing the public outcry to an end.

The CE did not respond to Wong’s allegations when he arrived at the airport ahead of a trip to Beijing. “We will submit arguments of the SAR government at the court,” Leung said.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau also declined to comment on details, citing anticipated court challenges, but clarified that the 1998 policy “does not entail a blanket approval of each and every free TV license application received.”

Apart from the regulator’s recommendation, the statement affirmed the CE in ExCo has the authority to consider all relevant factors in granting free-to-air TV licenses, “such as the sustainability of the free TV market as a whole”.

Earlier in the day, Leung explained how “sustainability” was considered when competition is introduced to the market for the first time in 40 years. “We don’t want the progress brought by competition of new licensees to be a flash in the pan,” he said.

The financial viability of applicants was assessed by a consultant, Leung added, including investment plans and projected advertising revenues. He maintained the process is overseen by the Department of Justice and counsels hired from the United Kingdom.

While the Basic Law provided that the CE has no obligation to accept ExCo’s majority view, Leung said that had never happened in the past.

“This is common sense. The CE invited people from all walks of life to advise him in ExCo and the CE will not — though authorized by the Basic Law — refrain from following ExCo’s majority view,” he said.