His appointment comes despite Li being a ‘disqualified person’ under Hong Kong’s broadcasting laws. Li is considered as ineligible due to his connections to the advertising industry and to his role in mainland China’s media sector. His appointment therefore had to be approved by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.
In a statement on its website, TVB said that it would benefit from Li’s “unrivalled connections both within China and internationally.” Since stepping away from day-to-day control of Shanghai Media Group four years ago, Li has built CMC into one of China’s most foresightful media operations and the best connected in Hollywood. It has stakes in the Shanghai theme park being built with DreamWorks, a minority stake in IMAX China and is partnered with Warner Bros. and TVB in Hong Kong- and Beijing-based film production joint venture Flagship Entertainment.
Despite Li’s stellar reputation, critics will point to his TVB appointment, and the special treatment it needed from government, as yet another sign that Hong Kong’s supposedly independent press is currently being taken over by mainland Chinese forces. Information and technology legislator Charles Mok questioned the appointment. “There is regulation there. Why didn’t the Chief Executive just follow it?,” Mok asked.
TVB’s statement revealed that Li will in fact become the fourth disqualified person that the Hong Kong government has permitted to become a TVB board director. The others with conflicts of interest include TVB chairman Charles Chan, TVB’s CEO Mark Lee, and non-executive director Thomas Hui. In addition to being the territory’s undisputed free to air champion — Asia Television (ATV) collapsed earlier this year and was stripped of its license — TVB owns one of the world’s largest libraries of Chinese-language film and video content.
The evidence in favor of the argument that Hong Kong media is being taken over by mainland interests continues to mount. After the sale of Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper the South China Morning Post earlier this year to China’s Alibaba, it was recently revealed that Media Chinese International, the firm that operates leading Cantonese paper Ming Pao Daily News, has sold 73% of its equity to a state-owned mainland Chinese firm.
Evidence of editorial influence being affected by corporate ownership is plentiful, but hard to prove, The Aug. 1 suspension of Joseph Lian, a columnist at the influential Hong Kong Economic Journal, who was regularly critical of the Beijing government, is held up as a recent example. The HKEJ is owned by Richard Li, whose PCCW is a leading mainland investor as well as Hong Kong’s dominant pay-TV platform. PCCW was also last week revealed as an investor in Hollywood’s STX Entertainment.