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Broadcasting performs the important functions to inform, entertain, and educate. Hong Kong has a vibrant broadcasting industry, with 12 free digital television (TV) channels and 13 radio channels provided by commercial broadcasters and the public service broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), as well as over 900 satellite and pay TV channels.
The policy objectives of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (the Government) are to widen the programme choice for the community, encourage investment and innovation in the broadcasting industry, promote fair and effective competition, and enhance Hong Kong’s position as a regional broadcasting hub.
Broadcasting services are regulated under the Broadcasting Ordinance (Cap. 562) (for TV broadcasting), Part 3A of the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106) (for sound broadcasting), and the Broadcasting (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 391) (for TV and sound broadcasting). Broadcasters are also subject to licensing requirements. The licensing framework is designed in such a way to ensure that the licensing authority is commensurate with the degree of influence and pervasiveness of the broadcasting service to be licensed. In gist, the Chief Executive in Council is empowered to grant and renew domestic free TV programme service licences, domestic pay TV programme service licences, and sound broadcasting licences, following consideration of the Communications Authority (CA)’s recommendations. The CA, on the other hand, is vested with the statutory powers to grant and renew non-domestic TV programme service licences and other licensable TV programme service licences.
The Government carried out a comprehensive TV policy review in 1998, and subsequently opened up the TV market in 2000. There is no ceiling on the number of licences to be granted, subject to physical or technological constraints.
The Government has adopted a technology-neutral regulatory regime since 2000. TV programme services are licensed and regulated according to their nature and pervasiveness rather than their transmission mode. Under the Broadcasting Ordinance (Cap. 562), the four categories of TV programme services are, domestic free, domestic pay, non-domestic, and other licensable TV programme services.
There are currently three domestic free TV programme service licensees: Fantastic Television Limited, HK Television Entertainment Company Limited and Television Broadcasts Limited. They are providing nine domestic channels in digital format by using frequency spectrum and/or fixed network as transmission mode. The three broadcasters are required to broadcast news, documentary, current affairs, arts and culture programmes, and programmes for children (including educational programmes targeting teenagers), young persons and senior citizens. RTHK, as Hong Kong's public service broadcaster that produces programmes of public interest, has commenced broadcast of three digital TV channels since January 2014.
There are currently two domestic pay TV programme service licensees: Hong Kong Cable Television Limited and PCCW Media Limited. They are providing over 300 pay TV channels using fully digitised platform. Pay TV services are subject to less stringent content regulation but it is a statutory requirement that the service provider must provide a locking device to protect minors from accessing contents for adults. Pay TV operators may provide their services via multiple transmission means, for example, hybrid fibre coaxial cable, microwave, satellite, broadband network, etc.
Hong Kong positions itself as the broadcasting hub of the Asia Pacific region. There are nine non-domestic TV programme service licensees providing over 200 satellite TV channels for the Asia Pacific region. The Government also adopts an "open sky" policy. Through satellite master antenna TV (SMATV) and TV receive only systems, Hong Kong viewers are free to receive satellite TV channels that are intended for general reception as uplinked from Hong Kong and elsewhere. There are now over 600 such free-to-air satellite TV channels available for reception in Hong Kong. Over 770,000 premises in multi-storey buildings have access to satellite TV channels through their SMATV systems.
Hong Kong implemented full digital TV broadcast on 1 December 2020. The reason for implementing such a measure is that digital TV broadcast out-performs analogue TV broadcast in terms of picture quality and more importantly, valuable spectrum can thus be vacated to address the increasing demand for spectrum for high value-added mobile telecommunications services. To tie in with the implementation of full digital TV broadcast, the Government launched the Community Care Fund Digital Television Assistance Programme from 14 January 2020 to 15 July 2021 to assist needy analogue TV households to purchase digital TV sets or set-top boxes, so that they can continue to watch free TV after the implementation of full digital TV broadcast.
Sound broadcasting services are regulated under Part 3A of the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106). There are 13 local radio channels serving Hong Kong. The two commercial broadcasters, namely Hong Kong Commercial Broadcasting Company Limited and Metro Broadcast Corporation Limited, each broadcast three channels. Seven channels are operated by RTHK, the public service broadcaster.
The broadcasters are required to provide balanced entertainment, informative and educational programmes, including news and weather reports, current affairs, arts and culture programmes, and programmes for young persons, senior citizens and children. Programmes in Filipino, Hindi, and Thai are also broadcasted to cater for the needs of ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong.
The broadcasting sector has experienced rapid development in Hong Kong and worldwide. The Government is committed to modernising the regulatory framework in response to changes in market landscape and technological developments. The Government completed the Review of Television and Sound Broadcasting Regulatory Framework in 2018 and proposed a number of measures which aim to remove outdated requirements for licensed broadcasters so as to further promote the development of the local broadcasting industry. The Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 that gives effect to the above measures was passed in October 2020. The Government will continue to keep in view the updates and developments in the broadcasting sector and strive to provide a conducive environment for the development of the local broadcasting industry.
Review of Television and Sound Broadcasting Regulatory Regimes
RTHK is a government department that serves as the city’s public service broadcaster. It provides editorially independent, professional and quality radio, TV and new media services. The Charter of RTHK enshrines RTHK’s editorial independence and sets out its public purposes, mission, and relationship with the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the CA and the RTHK Board of Advisors.