Hong Kong will not renew Asia Television Ltd.’s license after the troubled broadcaster failed to provide a restructuring plan that satisfied the government.
The free-to-air broadcaster will be allowed to operate until April 1 next year, Commerce Secretary Gregory So told reporters in Hong Kong on Wednesday, after a meeting of the city’s cabinet.
“ATV’s managers and ATV couldn’t give any concrete restructuring proposal before the deadline set” by the government, So said. This is the first time Hong Kong has decided against renewing a broadcast license, he said.
Owners of Asia Television, the city’s first Chinese-language broadcaster, have been seeking investors as the company struggled to attract advertisers and failed to pay wages to staff. Its impending failure may reopen a debate over competition and choice in Hong Kong, with thousands marching in protest in 2013, when the government rejected Hong Kong Television Network Ltd.’s application for a license.
“It is a dark day in Hong Kong,” Wong Ching, a major investor in ATV, said in an e-mailed statement. He said he was not surprised by the outcome.
The government’s decision was announced after Derek Lai, a court-appointed manager, said on Wednesday that ATV’s majority shareholders signed an agreement to sell to an investor, whom he didn’t identify.
Hong Kong Television Network Co. said no agreement or agreement in principle was reached by Chairman Ricky Wong, on behalf of the company or otherwise, according to a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday. That was less than 24 hours after ATV said its owners will transfer controlling stakes to HKTV.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association denounced ATV of spreading misleading news, according to an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. The group is also concerned about a monopoly on free-to-air broadcasting and about press freedom.
So also said that the cabinet on Wednesday granted a 12-year broadcasting license to a unit of PCCW Ltd., which received preliminary approval in 2013 for free-TV service.