Thanks to ATV and the Hong Kong government, this year’s April Fool’s Day was truly a remarkable show of teases and hoaxes.
Asia Television Ltd. has been merely lingering on in recent years, and since Wong Ching became the broadcaster’s major stakeholder after a series of transfers of ownership, the firm has never been short of scandal.
The latest one happened on April 1, when its news department reported that the cash-strapped TV station had struck a deal with Ricky Wong Wai-kay, chairman of Hong Kong Television Network Ltd. (01137.HK) — who was briefly ATV’s chief executive officer in 2008 — for the acquisition of its shares just before the Executive Council’s meeting to decide the broadcaster’s fate.
The report drew a backlash after HKTV put out a statement denying any such agreement.
ATV, plagued with financial problems, had not been allowed to die and repeatedly defaulted on wage payments.
The saga became a gross stain on Hong Kong’s name when ATV’s employees were asked to borrow from a director of the firm the wages that were due to them.
The authorities’ connivance was beyond everyone’s imagination.
Eventually, amid a renewed rumor that a private equity fund would purchase shares in ATV, the government brought the farce to a dramatic ending with the decision not to renew ATV’s license.
The decision is certainly a tardy one, the long delay laying bare the fear and hesitation of top officials, as some ATV stakeholders are said to have strong backing in the mainland.
The government’s refusal to renew the license may also suggest that the rumored potential buyer of ATV may not be considered politically acceptable.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 2.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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