Teledifusao de Macau S.A. (TDM), the sole public television broadcaster in the world’s top gambling hub, is unlikely to shift its operational base to Hengqin Island in neighboring Zhuhai, given concerns about press freedoms in the mainland and other problems including jurisdictional issues, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A relocation to the developing island district in Zhuhai, the prefecture-level Chinese city bordering Macau, will no doubt offer some advantages, but TDM will in the end decide to stay put in the former Portuguese enclave to ensure a free operating environment, the source said.
He made those remarks when asked to comment on the chances of TDM taking up a suggestion put forward by Macau authorities last month. Tam Chon-weng, a spokesman for the Macau government, said on Feb. 12 that TDM, in which gaming mogul Stanley Ho and former Macau chief executive Edmund Ho held minority stakes prior to the return of Macau to Chinese control in 1999, can look at moving into the Guangdong-Macao Cooperative Industrial Garden in Hengqin.
The suggestion, together with a government decision to appoint Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) deputy director Manuel Goncalves Pires Jr as new TDM chairman from March 1, has fueled concerns that Macau could be in danger of losing its free speech if its sole public TV broadcaster were to follow the mainland’s media production rules.
Tam on Feb. 17 issued a clarification that relocating TDM to Hengqin is only a preliminary idea raised at a board meeting of the broadcaster, and that no decision has been made. Even if the company is relocated, the news department will stay in Macau, he added, aiming to ease concerns about press freedom.
EJ Insight’s source, however, said the Macau government has recently given up on the relocation plans due to several complex issues — including those related to jurisdiction, China’s national security and Guangdong province’s economic interests.
“It is not suitable to relocate TDM to Hengqin, which is outside Macau’s control and jurisdiction… neither the broadcaster’s news department will move there, nor will its support and post-production units,” said the source who is close to the Macau government.
TDM will have less flexibility in its programming if its studio is moved to the mainland as it will be difficult for an offshore media entity to get the same kind of special privilege offered to the University of Macau, which was granted a right by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress in 2009 to get a 1.09 square kilometer site to build a new campus in Hengqin under Macau jurisdiction, the source said.
From Beijing’s perspective, the approval for the University of Macau to enjoy such supportive policy was a “gift” from the central government to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the city’s handover, with mainland authorities recognizing that the project was purely for educational use and that the gaming city is suffering from a shortage of land resources.
Such preferential policy cannot be repeated in the TDM case as any offshore media that chooses to locate itself in the mainland cannot seek to follow the rules of other places, the source said.
Another matter is that the Guangdong-Macao Cooperative Industrial Garden is under the jurisdiction of the Guangdong provincial government, which has its own economic interests, the source said. Macau government cannot just put its projects there without the consent of the local government.
To develop Macau’s movie and TV drama industry, it is better to rely on experts like Lai Sun Development Co. Ltd. (00488.HK) chairman Peter Lam and Emperor Entertainment Group chairman Albert Yeung, rather than the government, the source said.
The way forward
Wu Mei, an associate professor in the department of communications at the University of Macau’s faculty of social sciences, also said the chance of relocating TDM to Hengqin is small due to the jurisdiction matter.
“TDM will not be able to expand in the short term due to limitation in office space [in Macau] and strong competition from Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts Ltd. (00511.HK),” said Wu, who participated in a research project for a public broadcasting service work group set up in 2010 by the Macau government.
In fact, as there are not many popular artists in Macau, which has a population of just 500,000, it is very difficult for the gaming city to develop Hollywood-like movie and TV drama businesses, she said. Even if there are some good artists, they tend to work overseas. These factors will continue to limit TDM’s development in the cultural and innovative industry, she said.
The Macau government will probably set aside the idea of relocating TDM to Hengqin, as such plan will be hard to implement, Camoes Tam, an assistant professor in faculty of humanities and arts at the Macau University of Science and Technology, said in a phone interview.
Besides, it will be very challenging for TDM to expand and improve its financial situation, Tam said. No private firm will dare to acquire it at a time when the Macau TV market is open to so many players, including Lotus TV, Macau Asia Satellite TV and the most competitive player of all — TVB, he said. Adopting a business model like that of the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) is probably the only way forward for TDM, he said.
Macau government established TDM in 1983 and later sold 49.5 percent stake in the entity to private investors in 1989. In 1995, former Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho held 15 percent stake in the broadcaster while gaming magnate Stanley Ho secured 19.5 percent. But they divested their stakes to other parties in 1999. In 2002, all private investors returned their holdings to the government, which then held 99.8 percent. The remainder was in the hands of some top executives.
– Contact the reporter at [email protected]