For decades, Hong Kong has had two free-to-air channels, each broadcasting one English-language and one Cantonese channel. Recently, the Executive Council decided to increase the number, but their decision has provoked sharp public criticism.
According to the newsletter of Charles Mok—a LegCo member of representing the IT Functional Constituency and longtime CWHK contributor: "The Executive Council decided to approve in principle new domestic free TV licenses to Fantastic TV (under Cable TV) and HK Television Entertainment (under PCCW), but not Ricky Wong's Hong Kong Television Network (HKTVN)."
Mok's conclusion? "The government has failed the Hong Kong people again," he wrote.
IT workers sacked
Wong, a charismatic entertainment-industry figure, reportedly spent in excess of HK$1 billion in the expectation that he would receive a license. Some say that's risky, but in today's volatile tech and entertainment climate, risk is a given. Startups are risky, but that doesn't stop Cyberport and HKSTP from helping develop them.
Why? Because IT is one of the six pillars of Hong Kong's industry. Technology benefits from our strengths: unfettered Net access, bandwidth, and the rule of law. Tech products and services aren't dependent on raw materials, but innovation and entrepreneurship—it's a natural fit for the HKSAR.
Yet licenses were given to iCable and PCCW, while HKTVN's denial meant the firm had to trim most of its staff. Mok: "HKTVN announced the layoff of 320 staff members, including some of its IT people."
Why was Wong confident enough to sink such a large sum into a media platform without an existing license?
Mok writes that in mid-2011, the former Broadcasting Authority had "recommended to ExCo to grant licenses to all three applicants, hence increasing the number of domestic free television operators from two to five." But Mok adds that "a consultancy report suddenly overrode the previous decision by the regulator, citing a 'basket' of factors, to reject one of the applicants, HKTVN."
Mok further writes that "the government has repeatedly used last-minute consultancy reports that are not released to the public to abruptly change policy directions."
Abrupt changes in policy are not business-friendly, nor do they inspire confidence among the public. At a minimum, the decision to exclude HKTVN cost 320 workers their jobs and is a blow to Hong Kong's IT profile. But it's also become an issue that not only refuses to fade, but continues to grow. Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers protested last Sunday, demanding the government explain its controversial decision.
Television not only provides jobs, but allows a means of creative expression. Before television became dominant, the Hong Kong film industry provided Asia and the world with films that are still cherished by cinephiles around the globe. Earlier films are more than mere entertainment—Hong Kong's Celestial Pictures oversees and distributes the Shaw Brothers film library, and many of these films document Hong Kong as it existed then. The films don't merely preserve our film history, but parts of our overall history. A scene shot in Central in the 1960s provokes a loud gasp from an audience when the scene appears on the big screen at the Hong Kong Film Festival, or at the cinema inside the Hong Kong Film Archive—as the changes in our cityscape are revealed on celluloid.
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