With the Leung Chun-ying administration deciding not to renew the license of Asia Television (ATV), it seems to be curtains finally for Hong Kong’s oldest and pioneering broadcaster.
Barring a miracle or some legal reprieve, the financially-troubled TV station will end its 58-year service in Hong Kong on April 1, 2016, or even sooner if it is unable to keep its operations going for a year — the notice period which the government gave for cessation of service.
The blow, though not unexpected, still marks a sad turn of events for the company, which had the distinction of being the first Chinese-language television station in the world.
While several factors contributed to the disastrous chain of events, if someone needs to take the blame for ATV’s demise it would be majority shareholder Wong Ching, who is also known as Wang Zheng.
Although Wong has no official role in the station, he certainly caused problems to go out of hand in recent years.
The mainland businessman, on his part, has hinted at conspiracies and dark forces behind ATV’s woes.
Following the announcement Wednesday of the Executive Council’s decision to deny a fresh 12-year license to ATV, Wong said: “Today is a dark day for Hong Kong. I am not surprised… as it is the outcome… of a series of conspiracies in the past two years.”
As for the Hong Kong public, they are feeling sad that ATV has come to ruin after falling into the hands of a mainland Chinese businessman.
If Wong did not come into ATV five years ago and started intervening in the daily operations of the station, the broadcaster could perhaps still have had a chance for survival, many people feel.
Rather than ensuring that the company maintains its professionalism as a public broadcaster, Wong saw the TV station as a tool to further his other interests, some critics say.
Apart from the failure to come up with a feasible restructuring plan or introduce new investors, an erosion in the credibility of the media outlet may have made it easier for authorities to deny a fresh license.
The mistrust over ATV’s news content has only grown after the broadcaster put out erroneous news this week that it has found a buyer.
In an evening news bulletin Tuesday, ATV said its major shareholders have reached a deal to sell their stakes to Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) chairman Ricky Wong.
But HKTV issued a statement Wednesday morning that there has been no such deal. But the rumors had already fueled a surge in HKTV’s share price, with the stock up as much as 30 percent at one point.
People in Hong Kong still remember how ATV News issued a false report in 2011 that former Chinese president Jiang Zemin had died.
Some observers suspect that ATV’s owner may have misused the Tuesday news bulletin in a bid to stall an unfavorable decision by the government on license renewal.
Questions are being asked as to how Wong Ching is able to intervene in the broadcaster’s operations even though he has no right to do so, given his mainland Chinese identity.
Under Wong’s control, ATV has adopted a pro-Beijing approach in recent years. The station has the right to choose its editorial stance, but the question is whether such approach is well-executed and whether it can be a good business model.
The track record of Wong suggests that his words and assurances shouldn’t be taken at face value.
In March 2010, during a plenary session of the National People’s Congress, Wong — who had just reached an agreement with Payson Cha to invest in ATV — hosted a high-profile press conference to announce a strategic partnership with five top Chinese state-owned enterprises.
He boasted that the five state firms — China Life, China Merchants Bank, China State Construction, Guangdong Holdings, and Bank of Beijing — can offer billions of dollars to support the business of ATV.
However, when ATV experienced financial difficulties, there was no indication of any support from the five firms. This naturally raised questions whether the so-called partnerships were just a trick to convince Cha and other ATV shareholders of Wong’s ability to bring in cash for ATV.
Wong, who is also the chairman of Shenzhen-listed Rongfeng Holdings, has also been accused of turning ATV into his personal vehicle to entertain Chinese business partners.
Artists were often required to perform in front of guests to serve Wong’s personal interests, rather than to boost ATV’s own business.
Overall, if there is one lesson in the fall of ATV, it is that Hong Kong broadcasters should be managed by Hong Kong people, serving local interests.
A mainlander, however wealthy and whatever connections he may boast, won’t really bother to preserve the integrity of the media business nor protect the interests of local employees.
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