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Government's response to public views on outcome of free TV licence applications

In connection with the decision on the domestic free television programme service (free TV) licence applications, a spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said today (October 21):

"The Government notes the public concern on the outcome of the free TV licence applications, and understands the views of the public and the industry on the development of the local television market and the creative industry. The Government reiterates that in deciding whether to grant approval-in-principle to the three free TV licence applications, the Chief Executive (CE) in Council has processed each application fairly and impartially in accordance with statutory requirements and established procedures. It has been guided by the public interest and considered holistically all relevant factors, with a view to reaping the benefits of introducing competition while at the same time to minimise any possible adverse impact to be brought about by over-competition on the free TV market as a whole. This is to ensure a healthy and orderly development of the market and protect public interest.

The Government stresses that the decision of granting approval-in-principle is the first time in nearly four decades that more competition will be introduced to the free TV market. The decision does not serve to protect the interest of existing licensees and does not involve any political consideration.

The Government reiterates that the CE in Council, in processing the three applications, has all along ensured procedural fairness and acted with reference to the professional advice of legal advisers. All applicants had been informed of relevant information, including the consultant's reports, the Administration's inclination to adopt the gradual and orderly approach in introducing competition into the free TV market and all the assessment criteria. The applicants had been given sufficient time to submit rounds of representations on these matters, the consultant's relevant assessments as well as other relevant issues.

Under the gradual and orderly approach in introducing competition into the free TV market, the CE in Council has considered the applications against the four assessment criteria as disclosed to the applicants (i.e. financial capability, programming investment, programming strategy and capability and technical soundness of the proposed service) and all relevant factors, including all representations from the interested parties, public views and public interest, etc. During the process, the CE in Council has assessed the competitiveness of the three applicants against the four above-mentioned assessment criteria. The CE in Council has formed the view that Fantastic Television Limited (Fantastic TV) and Hong Kong Television Entertainment Company Limited (HKTVE) outperform Hong Kong Television Network Limited in overall terms, and on this basis decided to grant approval-in-principle to Fantastic TV's and HKTVE's applications.

The Government has recently on different occasions publicly explained the assessment criteria and the reasoning leading to the CE in Council's decision. The CE in Council has carefully considered all views from different parties before making a decision in accordance with established procedures. The requirement of procedural fairness was strictly adhered to in the process.

Under the established system of confidentiality which must be adhered to, the deliberation of the Executive Council meetings on any subject matter is not made public. We hope for the public's understanding in this regard. The details on the processing of the three applications inevitably involve commercially sensitive information or even commercial secrets of the three applicants; and disclosure of which may cause damage to the three applicants and may even give rise to legal disputes.

The Government was notified five days ago (October 16) of the filing of an application for leave to apply for judicial review. In view of the ongoing legal proceedings, it is not appropriate for the Government to comment on the details in relation to the processing of the three applications, lest affecting the conduct of the legal proceedings concerned.

The Government understands the wish of the public to introduce more competition into the free TV market as soon as possible. As such, the Administration will continue to complete the outstanding work relating to the free TV licence applications in a fair and prudent manner, with a view to making an early decision on whether to formally grant free TV licences to the two applicants being granted approval-in-principle, thereby bringing more quality programme choices to the public soon."

Monday, October 21, 2013