Hong Kong Protesters Press Leung to Issue TV License

Thousands of people rallied outside the Hong Kong government’s headquarters yesterday, seeking to pressure Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying into giving a broadcasting permit to a startup operator.

Leung’s decision to reject the operator’s application while awarding licenses to PCCW Ltd. and I-Cable Communications Ltd., both controlled by billionaires, raised concerns that he favored big business. At least 36,000 people marched on Oct. 20 in protest, underlining discontent with his 16-month-old administration. The crowd at yesterday’s rally was estimated by organizers at more than 100,000 and by police at about 12,000, government broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

“It’s more about justice and transparency for Hong Kong than it is about a TV license,” said Gretel Chiu, a 27-year-old protester outside her tent in front of the government headquarters today. “We hope to press the government to explain how they selected licensees.”

About two dozen demonstrators were camping outside the government building today. They had been there since Oct. 20, when thousands first rallied after the government refused to give a license to Hong Kong Television Network Ltd. The campers said they planned to stay there until at least Nov. 6.

The protests reflect concerns that Hong Kong’s policies lack accountability and may undermine freedom of speech in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Discontent is rising in the former British colony as a record wealth gap and a doubling of property prices in four years squeeze workers.

Rising inequality has driven down poll ratings for Leung, the city’s last leader to be chosen by a committee of business and civic groups before full democracy promised in 2017. Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997, is a Special Administrative Region guaranteed its own freedoms and legal system for 50 years as part of the handover agreement.

“We are here to ask the government to explain the reasons behind the TV licensing decision, as there’s no transparency,” said Choi Chun-ning, 28, who works in the finance industry, as he joined other black-clad protesters last night outside the government headquarters. “To me, the government has lost its credibility.”

Shares Jump

Shares of Hong Kong Television, which said it will cut 320 jobs after its application was rejected on Oct. 15, jumped 14 percent yesterday as investors bet that Leung will bow to popular pressure and reverse the call.

Workers at Hong Kong Television Network Ltd. are leading the six-day protest, and Chairman Ricky Wong said this week the company plans to file for a judicial review. Leung said yesterday that the government will explain its decision in court.

The protesters are seeking to repeat the success of a 10-day rally last October, when students camping outside government headquarters led Leung to scrap a three-year deadline to implement national education classes, which the demonstrators said favored China’s Communist Party.

Increasing Competition

The free-to-air television permits awarded on Oct. 15 were the first in almost 40 years, increasing competition for existing operators Television Broadcasts Ltd. and Asia Television Ltd.

Television Broadcasts’ flagship channel has a 93 percent audience share during prime time on weekdays, according to the company’s 2012 interim report.

Advertisers spent an estimated HK$13 billion ($1.7 billion) in Hong Kong in 2012, with television accounting for about a third of that, Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit said in a February report, citing Magna Global.

Leung was picked by a committee of executives, professionals and lawmakers for a five-year term, with China promising universal suffrage in 2017. Opposition lawmakers failed in a no-confidence motion against Leung on on Oct. 17.

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