HONG KONG: Media Freedom Denied, Decision Unexplained

LAUREN CHEN WRITES – “Must we all buy the type of toilet paper designed by the government?”

Disgruntled Hong Kong Television Network’s (HKTV) chairman, Ricky Wong Wai-kay asked this very question after his network was denied a free-to-air TV license. The unexplained denial has created backlash among many who feel as if the Chinese government is controlling their entertainment choices and that Hong Kong policies favor big business.

According to SCMP, the two licenses that were approved just happened to be for companies that are controlled by billionaires: PCCW’s Hong Kong Television Entertainment Company and i-Cable’s Fantastic TV. Many viewed the start-up HKTV as an opportunity to have a broadcaster that was not under jurisdiction of the rich.

To add insult to injury, the government refuses to release why the Chief Executive in Council made the decision, but insists political considerations did not factor in. The content of such meetings is closed to the public, but Hong Kongers found their voice in an attempt to break the government’s silence.

Thousands of disappointed Hong Kongers took to the streets with banners depicting officials on puppet strings. Dressed in black, the protesters displayed their fervor for freedom outside government headquarters.

According to BBC News, Organizer Kristine Chan, from Hong Kong Free TV Action, told the Associated Press: “People are feeling very angry about this event, that the government is not really giving us many choices of free TV and trying to monopolise the industry by limiting the licences.”

ZDNet.com analyzes rumors that Mainland China is behind the decision and that it might reflect a “desire in Beijing to slowly encroach upon media freedom in Hong Kong in an attempt to bring it in line with the ruling party’s values.” The HKTV network had promised to broadcast programming critical of the government and capture the realities of Hong Kong life.

The implications of the denied free-to-air license application and the government silence are twofold. This incident fuels Hong Kong’s frustration with Beijing. Further, knowing China, how likely is it that restrictions will extend beyond choice of entertainment and TV station?

“The most notable change under [President Xi Jinping’s administration] has been the reportedly renewed commitment to ‘regain the Hong Kong media’” said Sarah Cook, researcher at Freedom House, a U.S.-based organization that advocates for democracy, political freedom and human rights.

The question remains, why did the HKTV’s application get denied? HKTV is seeking a judicial review of the rejection, but for now one can only speculate.


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