HKJA’s Statement: Issuing only two free-TV licences inconsistent with information diversification

The Hong Kong Journalists Association welcomes the government’s decision to grant two provisional free-to-air television licences to Fantastic TV under iCable Communications and HK Entertainment Television Company, an affiliate of PCCW. But HKJA finds its extremely regrettable that the government did not follow the recommendations of the then-Broadcasting Authority and issue three licences, This lapse is inconsistent with the desire for diversification of information.

HKJA is of the view that reducing the number of new licences from three to two is a retrogressive move. We find it even more dissatisfying that the government failed to explain clearly its rationale for this decision. This raises doubts about the likelihood that factors other than market forces and commercial reasons were behind the decision. The government should give a clear and open explanation for its decision, as free-to-air TV licensing is a major public concern.

HKJA is also concerned about the future of journalists working for the Hong Kong Television Network, which was not given a provisional license. We are concerned that they may not be able to keep their jobs and we shall endeavour to assist those affected.

Currently there is a lack of competition in the free TV industry given the wide gap in expertise between the two existing channels. The government has a responsibility in correcting this anomaly which is depriving the general public of any choice.

In 2009 the government asked for applications for free-to-broadcast TV licences, and three companies submitted their bids between late 2009 and 2010. The then-Broadcasting Authority had confirmed that the companies fulfilled licensing conditions, and proposed to the Executive Council to grant licenses to all three applicants.

In this information age, it is the general trend to open up the free-to-air television market, as diversity of TV operators would help the diversification of information, improvement in talent training and reform of the television industry. The public has been waiting for years for this, expecting that such opening up would bring in healthy competition and a full use of airwaves.

Unfortunately, the government decided to allow only two operators, supposedly in the belief that an orderly and gradual introduction would avoid shocks to the industry. But the government failed to explain what it meant by orderly, and totally failed to set a timetable for opening up the market to its optimum. We find it noteworthy that the then-Broadcasting Authority had most likely considered the impact the government’s decision might have on the public before making its recommendations, which we find to be thoughtful in nature.

HKJA believes the government should explain to the public its selection criteria for the licensees, to ease public concerns that the decision was motivated by political expedience.

Hong Kong Journalists Association

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