Hong Kong Government Strips ATV of Broadcast License

The Hong Kong government has cancelled the broadcast license of Asia Television, the territory’s oldest free-to-air TV network group.

Notice was served on the company Wednesday (April 1) after a meeting of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s equivalent of a cabinet of ministers.

The law requires a one year notice period, which means that ATV’s license will first be extended for three months beyond its scheduled expiry, and then cancelled. The group’s English and Cantonese channels will all cease on March 31 next year. It is the first time in Hong Kong broadcast history that an incumbent has been stripped of its license.

The decision, made on the advice of the Communications Authority, capped a dramatic week of announcements and more than five years of turmoil at the group.

On Tuesday (March 31) ATV itself used its main evening news bulletin to announce that it had been rescued. It said that its main shareholders had agreed to sell their 52% stake to the telecoms tycoon Ricky Wong, who in 2008 headed the company for 12 days and whose own broadcast ambitions have been thwarted by the Communications Authority.

But on Wednesday morning, Wong’s HKTV company denied that it had reached a deal with the ATV shareholders, and said that talks on March 26 had merely been an exchange of ideas.

That prompted new criticism of ATV from legislators. They interpreted ATV’s Tuesday broadcast announcement as a desperate attempt to influence the ExCo meeting, by suggesting that a rescue was at hand and that ATV’s financial situation would be soon be stabilized. They also said that the broadcast was inaccurate and may have led to the financial markets being deliberately misled.

By Wednesday afternoon, however, those problems were shown to be academic.

“Having considered the recommendations of the CA, relevant representations and all relevant latest developments, the Chief Executive in Council decided not to renew ATV’s free TV licence under section 11(5) of the Broadcasting Ordinance,” said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Gregory So.

“The CA considers that the overall performance of ATV is unsatisfactory. Its performance in various aspects has clearly deteriorated after the mid-term review of its licence. The CA has serious doubts as to whether ATV would be capable of making the necessary improvements, and whether it has the financial capability to deliver its investment plans, and indeed to continue its business as a going concern,” So said.

The government also gave formal approval Wednesday to the license application of a new free-to-air broadcaster HKTVE, following the grant of approval-in-principle back in October 2013.

HKTVE’s licence will be valid for 12 years until March 31, 2027, subject to a mid-term review in 2021.

Its integrated Cantonese channel and integrated English channel will commence within 12 months and 24 months respectively after the grant of licence. The Cantonese channel will provide round-the-clock service, while the English channel will broadcast a total of 16 hours of television programmes with two loops of eight hours each.

“We hope that HKTVE’s entry into the free TV market will benefit our audience-at-large with more quality programming choices,” So said.
 

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