Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council meeting today (July 17):
In January this year, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development stated that under the existing policy, there was no upper limit on the number of domestic free television programme service licences (TV licences). However, it has been reported that the Government has earlier sent letters to the three companies currently applying for new TV licences, making it clear that the licences would be issued selectively, and requesting them to provide, within a specified period, the justifications why their companies should be granted the licences. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the contents of the aforesaid letters, and whether such letters were issued pursuant to the Broadcasting Ordinance (Cap. 562) and established licensing procedure;
(b) whether the Government has modified the policy of not setting an upper limit on the number of TV licences; if so, of the justifications for that; if not, why it intends to issue the licences selectively;
(c) of the factors the Chief Executive in Council takes into consideration at the present stage for screening those applicants who may be granted the licences, and the procedure for making such decision; and
(d) whether the Government currently has any plan to postpone the vetting and approval of the present three applications for new TV licences until such time when the existing licences expire, so as to handle these applications together with the applications for renewal of licences; if it has, of the reasons for that; if not, the Government’s latest timetable for vetting and approval of the applications for new licences?
Hong Kong Television Network Limited, Fantastic Television Limited and HK Television Entertainment Company Limited each submitted an application for a domestic free television programme service licence on December 31, 2009, January 15, 2010 and March 31, 2010 respectively (the free TV licence applications). The former Broadcasting Authority (i.e. the predecessor of the Communications Authority) (the Authority), after taking into account various relevant factors and in accordance with the Broadcasting Ordinance (Chapter 562) (BO) and established procedures, has earlier completed the assessment of the three free TV licence applications, and submitted recommendations thereon to the Chief Executive (CE) in Council.
My reply to the four-part question is as follows:
(a) The Administration has been processing the three free TV licence applications expeditiously and prudently in accordance with the BO and established procedures. As the Administration has repeatedly explained on various occasions, the processing of the free TV licence applications involves complicated issues, including those relating to statutory requirements and procedural fairness, which require time for careful handling. It is inappropriate for the Government to respond to media reports on the free TV licence applications, which are still being considered by the CE in Council.
(b) In 1998, the Government conducted a comprehensive review of television policy. The public was consulted during the review process. Upon completion of the review, the Government announced in 1998 its decision to open up the television market. This policy remains unchanged up to now.
(c) and (d) The Guidance Note for Those Interested in Applying for Domestic Free Television Programme Service Licences in Hong Kong issued by the Authority sets out clearly the assessment criteria in respect of the free TV licence applications, which include the applicant’s financial soundness and commitment to investment; the applicant’s managerial skills and technical expertise; the variety, quantity and quality of programmes to be provided; the technical soundness and quality of the proposed service; the speed of service roll-out; minimum inconvenience to members of the public; the benefit to the local broadcasting industry, viewers and the economy as a whole; and quality control and compliance. The CE in Council will take into account all relevant factors and be guided by public interest in deciding on the free TV licence applications. As it takes time for the Administration to deal with the complicated issues involved in processing the free TV licence applications in accordance with established procedures, it is neither possible nor appropriate for us to set a timeframe for the CE in Council to make a decision.
The free TV licence applications and the applications for licence renewal for the two existing free television broadcasters are handled differently. The Government will continue to process the three free TV licence applications expeditiously and prudently in strict accordance with the statutory requirements and established procedures. We will announce the outcome as soon as possible after a decision is made by the CE in Council. As regards the renewal of licences of individual broadcasters, the relevant applications, upon receipt, will be processed in accordance with established procedures.