Murdoch said to be eyeing HK b’caster

Oriental Daily News says Yen stake up for sale

HONG KONG — Rupert Murdoch will buy a controlling stake in Hong Kong terrestrial broadcaster Asia Television Ltd. (ATV), according to reports in a local newspaper. CBS, which was also reported to be a partner in the deal, vehemently denied that it is involved.

Hong Kong business tycoon Lim Por Yen, who is mired in legal problems and has been hammered by Asia’s economic downturn, will reportedly sell his family’s 51% stake in ATV, according to the respected Chinese-language newspaper Oriental Daily News.

Lim, his family and related companies now own 67.5% of the broadcaster.

‘Unproved news’

ATV media relations manager Ann Chow said Thursday that the report in the Oriental Daily was “unproved news” but she did not say the story was incorrect.

“We are not denying it but we are not admitting to it,” Chow said.

She indicated that any announcements would come from company directors at a press conference.

CBS, however, denied that it is part of a consortium that will buy a 51% stake in the broadcaster.

“We haven’t been engaged in discussions,” a CBS spokesman said. “We’re not in a consortium with Rupert Murdoch.” Spokesmen for Murdoch’s News Corp. could not immediately be reached for comment.

Buyer was secret

For the past week, local papers have been reporting that a sale was imminent, though no potential buyer was named.

News reports put the value of the deal at HK$1.4 billion ($180 million).

ATV operates two channels, one in English and one in Cantonese. It is the city’s No. 2 terrestrial broadcaster, well behind publicly listed TVB, which has a lock on the top-rated programs.

Under current law, foreigners cannot own more than 49% of a local broadcaster.

China connection

According to newspaper reports, the buyer or buyers of ATV intend to sell 2% of ATV to an unnamed media company with mainland China connections.

Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns Hong Kong-based satcaster Star TV, has been working to establish a beachhead in China for several years. So far, it doesn’t have a lot to show for its strenuous efforts.

Bribery scandal

Lim, who reportedly will step down as chairman of ATV, is also a property and hotel tycoon. This week, he was slapped with criminal charges resulting from a bribery scandal in Taiwan involving property rezoning.

His listed property and hotel company, Lai Sun, has been hard hit by the Asian flu’s double whammy of slumping property prices and a declining number of tourists.

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