KW's Speissbach joins Chinese-led buyers

HONG KONG — Michael Spiessbach, who heads the American TV production company King World Ventures, is part of a consortium that has agreed to buy a stake in Asia Television Ltd.

ATV is the city’s No. 2 two terrestrial broadcaster, well behind Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB)

Financial and legal problems had led ATV’s controlling shareholder, businessman Lim Por-yen, to offload part of his stake in the company, which only began to show a profit in 1996.

Acting chief executive Kenneth Kwok would not reveal financial details of the deal or the size of the consortium’s shareholding.

The deal needs government approval, which Kwok said he expects within one or two months.

The announcement ends weeks of speculation about a sale. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and CBS had been among the names mentioned as possible investors.

Kwok said Lim, who is on trial in Taiwan on bribery charges, would step down as chairman but would remain a substantial shareholder. Lim currently controls 67.5% of ATV through personal and business holdings.

As part of the deal, Speissbach would get a seat on the board of directors. According to Kwok, Spiessbach’s involvement could mean a strengthening of ATV’s weak English-language programming. Each terrestrial service operates two channels, one each in Cantonese and English.

The consortium is led by Wong Po-yan, a Hong Kong businessman with close ties to mainland China.

Wong, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Airport Authority, is a also a member of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress. He does not have any broadcasting experience.

Kwok said Wong has guaranteed the editorial freedom of the stations’ news operation.

“Mr. Wong has stated very clearly the editorial and news reporting freedom will be totally and absolutely maintained,” Kwok said.

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