HKTV chairman Ricky Wong is very pleased with the High Court's decision
HKTV founder and chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay was grinning from ear to ear this afternoon after news broke that the High Court had ordered the Chief Executive in Council (CEIC) to reconsider its decision to deny HKTV a free-to-air license in October 2013.
Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung said the government had failed to follow the policy that stipulates there should be no limit on the number of broadcasting licenses issued. He allowed the judicial review launched by HKTV and claimed the government's decision failed to take into account the legitimate expectation of the television station with regards to any changes in policy.
"The CEIC should have regard and take into account the policy as constructed in this judgement and HKTV's legitimate expectation," Au wrote in the judgement.
HKTV had been encouraged by the government to apply for a free-to-air license and was the first to apply on December 31, 2009. iCable Communications and PCCW subsidiary HK Television Entertainment applied the following year, and were approved in October 2013, while HKTV was shut out.
One of HKTV's hottest actors is Gregory Wong
The station had already sunk over HK$900 million into staff, production and constructing a multimedia centre in Tseung Kwan O, which is why Wong felt he had no choice but to lodge a judicial review, arguing that a 1998 government policy stipulates that the broadcast market would be open to fair competition and would not limit the number of licenses issued.
The judge said the government had effectively decided that "there should be a limit of no more than two licenses that could be granted", and that the three applicants were considered and ranked which of the three should be given a license.
"The decision is therefore in my view made not in adherence to the policy," the judge wrote.
If the government wanted to change the policy, the judge said, it could only do so lawfully by taking into account the legitimate expectation of the parties involved, and to publicly justify its action.
However, "The government had failed to do so in making the decision... and in any event [it] had not given any reasons for why [it] decided to change the policy," Au wrote.
Wong was victorious, saying he had popped open three bottles of champagne to celebrate.
"The most important thing now is that the court has handed down the judgement and the Chief Executive in Council should, according to law and the judgement, reconsider its decision and reach a conclusion that will make most Hong Kong people happy," he said.
Wong called on the CEIC to issue a free TV license to HKTV, so that Hong Kong people could enjoy high-quality free TV programs.
Talk about vindication. Wong stuck to his guns and luckily with deep pockets, has the judge siding with him in this case. Wong will not be pushed around.
It is also a mini moral victory for others as proof that the government cannot impose new policies illegally, that there is still some kind of recourse in Hong Kong.
Now what to do about that electoral reform package...