Executive had sole discretion over radio licenses

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court Tuesday ruled that parts of the law governing radio broadcasts in the territory are unconstitutional. But the magistrate then promptly suspended action of his judgment for fear the public airwaves could plunge into chaos.

Case arose as six activists representing Citizens’ Radio fought charges that they were making illegal broadcasts using illegal equipment. The litigation was always considered something of a test case, as the defendants included a member of Legco, Hong Kong’s parliament. Citizens’ Radio previously applied for a license, but was denied.

Hong Kong courts next week are skedded to hear 15 similar summonses, including one against a Citizens’ Radio talkshow guest.

The law gives the territory’s chief executive sole discretion over radio licenses. Without any mechanism for review, the law was described by magistrate Douglas Yau as giving the chief exec “unfettered and unchecked power.” As that infringes on laws on free speech as laid out in Hong Kong’s constitution, the magistrate ruled it unconstitutional.

Yau dismissed the case against the six, but was forced to suspend his judgment and adjourn the matter until mid-February when the government will appeal his ruling on constitutionality.

He apparently accepted that if the authorities were unable to control the radio spectrum, lives could be endangered through encroachments into the frequencies used by emergency services.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more