Massive protests are to continue in Hong Kong over HKTV being blacked out by the government and for a free(er) media.
Former employees of HKTV have been camping outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong for two weeks ever since the new TV station was denied its application for a free-to-broadcast TV license in October.
They want to know why HKTV was the only network of three that applied that was denied a license, and they have large numbers of the public on their side. On October 20, over 30,000 people rallied against the decision. Another major demonstration is planned for November 6 outside the LegCo building, when the council will vote on a measure to investigate.
Danny Chan, a scriptwriter who was among 320 employees fired after the decision, was among about a dozen people present at their makeshift camp of tents and banners on November 2.
“For the last 14 years, Hong Kong has had just two TV channels [two networks],” he said. “The Hong Kong citizens were looking forward to more choices.”
The two local networks that were already in existence are Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Asia Television Limited (ATV), where Chan used to work before joining HKTV one year ago. Together the two networks broadcast eleven channels on Hong Kong’s free airwaves, including two mainland channels that ATV has the license to broadcast. Additionally Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the local broadcasting network, is in the process of launching its own TV channel.
The two networks that were granted broadcast licenses were Hong Kong Television Entertainment, owned by PCCW, and Fantastic Television, owned by I-Cable. PCCW’s chairman Richard Li, the son of Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-Shing, has a net worth of $1.9 billion, according to Forbes in 2013. Peter Woo, who has a net worth of $8 billion and is the 232nd richest man in the world, presides over I-Cable.
Ricky Wong, the man behind HKTV, is less wealthy by comparison and is considered a self-made millionaire, having made his fortune by bringing cheap international calls to Hong Kong and building a high speed broadband network. Last year, he sold the telecommunications businesses of his City Telecom company and changed the name to Hong Kong Television Network Limited. HKTV signed some established actors and began broadcasting online. Wong invested HK$300 million in developing the business. He has the vision to create a groundbreaking network that emulates some aspects of American television.
But now with no license, he has fired 60 percent of his staff, and his plans are in limbo as he considers a legal challenge. Pan-democratic activists, including some affiliated with the Occupy Central movement for universal suffrage, have rallied behind HKTV’s cause.
Ken Chan, a writer who spoke at an Occupy Central deliberation day on October 27, said, according to a translation, “How do we get more people to know about Occupy Central? The TV license issue is a good way. Politics is personal. We can show that it impacts them. They don’t have the choice of TV channels.”
C.Y. Leung, Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, has declined to comment on specifics of the decision to deny HKTV’s license, citing the need for confidentiality of Executive Council decisions.
Charles Mok, the representative of the Information Technology Functional Constituency and one of the few pan-democrats to represent a functional constituency, is proposing a measure that would force the government to release documents related to the decision. The vote on November 6 is expected to be highly contested, and employees at HKTV’s camp have created a board tallying the ongoing vote count. Legislative members of pan-democrat aligned parties only make up 24 of the 70 seat Legislative Council, compared to 35 pro-establishment party legislators, but the proposal has picked up some support from a few pro-establishment legislators.
James Tien, leader of the Liberal Party, is backing the proposal. The Liberal Party is a center-right party aligned with the pro-establishment side, but they are not supportive of Leung. In a bitter 2012 election, many pro-Beijing members of the Election Committee initially backed Henry Tang for chief executive until scandals shook his legitimacy. Leung won by virtue of being the other pro-Beijing candidate, but all Liberal Party voters refused to vote for him, and most of them declined to attend a post-election dinner with Leung.
According to HKTV ex-staff members, the pan-democrat side, as of November 2, just needs four of the undecided legislators to vote with them for the measure to pass, but Horatio Tsoi, who had worked as a producer, said, “I am pessimistic that it will pass.”
The legislators in the undecided or opposition columns are all pro-establishment or independents.
The HKTV camp had many more protesters one week ago, but now it is down to the low tens. Holdouts were eating shrimp donated by a supporter under a steel-framed tent on the sidewalk, and a reporter for a Chinese-language news outlet in Canada interviewed protesters. Banners were hanging all around the camp. One of them said, “Don’t Kill Media”. A few Halloween decorations were taped up elsewhere.
Tsoi, who has worked in television for 30 years, said, “We make the programs very sincere. We have a heart.”
Just then heavy winds began blowing and collapsed the camping tents along the sidewalk. The stand-by typhoon signal T1 had already been raised. That means a storm is expected to come in a few days.