Gov’t OKs sale of Asia TV

One buyer has strong ties to mainland China

HONG KONG — The government here Tuesday approved the sale of 51% of Asia Television (ATV) to two companies, one with strong links to mainland China.

Though not unexpected, the sale has disturbed some media-watchers worried about Chinese control of one of only two terrestrial broadcasters in the city.

K.C. Kwong, the government’s secretary for information technology and broadcasting, said the new owners will not impinge on the broadcaster’s editorial freedom.

“The new shareholders have pledged that they will continue to maintain and uphold ATV’s traditional freedom of expression and editorial independence,” Kwong said.

ATV, which has English- and Chinese lingo channels, runs a poor second to top terrestrial Television Broadcasts (TVB).

The new owners are Dragon Viceroy, which will have a 46% stake, and Rankon, which will hold 5%. Kwong released little information about either company.

King World Prods. executive Michael Spiessbach will have a seat on the new ATV board and will be an adviser to the chairman. King World is not an active investor in ATV, though Spiessbach said a future investment by King World and other Western television companies is envisioned.

Two Dragon directors, including Wong Po yan, who will be chairman of ATV, are Hong Kong representatives to China’s parliament.

Another Dragon director, Liu Changle, is believed to have ties to the Chinese military broadcasting unit. Liu is also a director of Hong Kong based Phoenix Satellite Television, a joint venture between Chinese interests and News Corp.’s Star TV.

Lim Por yen, formerly chairman of ATV, will continue to hold 16% of the broadcaster. He is facing corruption charges in Taiwan.