Hundred Thousand Hong Kongers Protest Against Government’s Refusal of HKTV’s Broadcast License
Hong Kong’s 20 October Protest
20th October 2013
– Lorraine Cheong
Yesterday, on 20 October 2013, an estimated 120,000 demonstrators protested the government’s decision of denying a free-to-air broadcast license to Hong Kong Television Network Ltd (HKTV). Many of them wore black T-shirts, representing that it was a black day to Hong Kong’s freedom of press.
It is the largest social movement since the 10-day demonstrations against China-prescribed ‘national education’ last year, in which hundred thousands of Hong Kongers joined and succeeded to stop the government from implementing ‘brainwashing’ courses for primary and secondary school students.
Some of the demonstrators started their rallies at Victoria Park, walking all the way to Tamar at Admiralty, where they joined the other demonstrators in front of the government headquarter. The police only opened one lane of the roads, which is far too narrow for the large number of participants to get through. Some protestors demand the police to open more lanes and succeeded to break through the barrier.
HKTV staff camped outside government headquarter
A large crowd gathered in front of the government headquarter since 6p.m. until late evening. After the protest, about 60 HKTV staff camped in front of the government headquarter, saying that they would not leave until the government give a reasonable explanation. Other protestors who needed to work on Monday said they would return on the next day to support the staffs.
As always, there are contradicting estimation of the number of demonstrators. Legislator Claudia Mo estimated a number of 120,000, from her experience of the anti-national-education protest last year. HKTV staff suggested 80,000 may have taken part, while the police claimed that only 36,000 people joined the demonstration.
500,000 Facebook page likes supporting HKTV
The march was organised via a Facebook page that has attracted nearly 500,000 “likes” in less than a week. More than 3,000 people also signed a White House petition. Even though the chance of getting this matter onto discussion in the US congress is slim, netizens hope that this would arouse international concern, and at the same time ridicule and embarrass the Hong Kong government. The petition stated that the denial of broadcast license “may violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which requires a government to be objective and reasonable, clear, transparent, and non-discriminatory in order to protect the freedom of speech, opinion and expression”.
HKTV chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay, who did not join the rally, also said that the refusal was not just a matter of giving audience more choice but whether the authorities respected people’s needs and whether Hong Kong was still governed by the rule of law.
How TVB and ATV became a tool of propaganda
Over the years, there are only two free TV channels in Hong Kong, the Television Broadcasts Ltd (TVB) and Asia Television Ltd (ATV). ATV is well known for its pro-government stance. News reports are highly censored and they have produced programmes that openly criticize pro-democratic parties. The chairman of ATV, Wang Jing, is a Mainland Chinese real estate developer affiliated with the communist party. Recently he spoke openly against issuing of new free-to-air broadcast licenses.
TVB is managed by Stephen Chan Chi Wan, a Hong Kong businessman. However, since the handover it also shows signs of news censorship. Pro-government news reports are put in higher priority while issues about corruption of government officials, influx of immigrants and smuggling across the border are toned down. In 2009, TVB drew criticism when its news department lightly dabbed the issue on Tiananmen massacre. The standard of TVB’s entertainment programmes have also been criticised to be declining. However, as there are no real competitors, audience can only choose between the two channels. According to Reporters Without Borders, Hong Kong’s press freedom ranking dropped from the 34th in 2010 to 58th in 2013.
The government has granted free-to-air licences to PCCW Ltd and I-Cable Communications, both controlled by billionaires. These two companies have been broadcasting for years, although they were not free-to-air channels in the past. PCCW’s Now TV was a satellite and internet TV channel, and I-Cable was a paid subscription TV service. This actually means that there are no new competitors in the market.
Both PCCW and I-Cable only produce non-drama programmes. HKTV is a new investor that has started to produce drama and non-drama programmes even before there is any official result of the broadcast license. They have put teasers of their programmes online, which attracted huge supports from the public. Some believe that HKTV would bring real competition and call it a “TV revolution”.
Leaked documents showed political interventions
The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau claimed that the denial of license was solely a business decision. However, evidences showed that there were political interventions from higher officials. A leaked document was published by Cable TV and newspaper Ming Pao on Saturday. It is an internal government document dated from December last year and its content was discussed by the Executive Council. In one paragraph it reads, “In the circumstances, we do not consider that undertaking further procedural steps or refusal to grant the approval in principle to any of the applicants is justified”
The document also suggested that the government should consult the public and be warned of protests, such as petitions and hunger strikes, should one of the applications be rejected.
When the government decided to open the TV market in 1998 it said there would be no cap on licence numbers. And as digital broadcasting has become widely available now, there should not be any technical difficulties concerning frequency bandwidths.
In an Executive Council document dated 17 Jan 2012, it stated that the government has no responsibility to protect ATV’s survival. Another EXCO document dated 28 Feb 2012 also supports issuing of broadcast license to all three companies.
HKTV Chairman Ricky Wong claimed that it was actually a government official who invited him to propose for a new free TV channel. The policy seemed to be changed only after CY Leung became the Chief Executive. CY Leung is the most unpopular Chief Executive of Hong Kong since 1997, with a recent poll showing that only 15.8% of respondents were satisfied with the performance of the Leung’s administration, and 37% of people said they do not trust the government.