Hong Kong plans major sat TV study

HONG KONG — In his first public statement following the takeover of the territory by China, Secretary for Broadcasting Chau Tak-hay announced that the Hong Kong government will undertake a major study of satellite broadcasting over the next few months.

“We want to see how we can maintain and enhance our position as a regional satellite broadcasting hub,” said Chau, who held the same position in the old colonial government. “We can’t afford to rest on our laurels.”

One area that will undoubtedly be addressed is foreign ownership. As it stands now, foreign broadcasters cannot hold a majority stake in an uplink facility. Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV owns just 48% of one of three such licenses and would probably take a larger share if it could.

“I think they are going to be taking a broad look at all the regulations because the industry has progressed so much,” said Star spokeswoman Susan Williams.

The government had already planned a review of the broadcasting industry in 1998, but this satellite study surprised even close watchers of the industry, such as the Hong Kong-based Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia.

The former British colony, now known as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, is home to satcasters such as CNN, TNT & Cartoon Network, NBC Asia, Star TV, MGM Gold, China Entertainment Television and China Television Network. Chau refused to give any details of the study, saying he did not want to prejudge the outcome. He did add, however, that he hoped it would be concluded by the end of the year.

“We will be looking at all the laws and regulations regarding satellite television broadcasting to see which we can improve or simplify so we can be in an even more competitive position in Asia,” he said.

Hong Kong’s main competitor for the title of Asia’s broadcasting hub is Singapore, which is relentless in its efforts to attract networks. Though it does not let them broadcast freely to local audiences, Singapore does offer significant tax breaks and majority foreign ownership. Hong Kong, on the other hand, depends on its low corporate tax rate (16.5%), its access to China and its open airwaves.

“We’re running head to head,” Chau said. “But unlike Singapore we offer no tax concessions or tax holidays to investors. We do offer a formidable combination of advantages. But we are not in the business of trying to outdo Singapore or Japan or any place.”

As for next year’s review of the entire broadcasting environment, Chau again hinted that the industry, including the sole cable operator, will get even more competition.

“I would find it extraordinary if we do not go further with deregulation,” he said. Chau also denied that the new Beijing-aligned government will do anything to help Hong Kong-based broadcasters get a leg-up on the competition in China.

“We promote Hong Kong as a broadcast hub,” he said. “We don’t get involved in the activities of private companies. If they are able to get into China or any other countries, that is a very good thing. But the government does not get involved in such activities.”

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