H.K. TV operator "shocked" over losing license bid, sacks staff

A Hong Kong TV executive has voiced his anger about losing a bid to secure Hong Kong's new free-to-air television license, saying he invested in the network because government officials had encouraged him to join the bid.

The government decided Tuesday to give licenses to two networks -- Fantastic TV and Hong Kong Television Entertainment -- which should start broadcasting within 12 months once the licenses are granted.

The third bidder, Ricky Wong of Hong Kong Television Network, said the fact he was left out was "against the people's will."

Wong said he trusted the government when he was approached by officials in 2009 inviting him to join the bid. He started investing in the network from 2009, hired 750 staff members and celebrities, and began producing television programs.

"The outcome was shocking. We are very disappointed at the ruling," Wong, chairman and major investor of the broadcaster, told the press.

"So far, no one from the government has told us why our application was rejected. We, and the public, have no idea how the government can change from promising unlimited new licenses to picking two out of three, like at a beauty contest. The whole thing looks like a backroom deal. Is there no justice in Hong Kong? How come we died for no reason?" he asked.

Wong said capital investment, operational cost and program production have amounted to more than HK$900 million ($116 million).

To guarantee the company's survival, about 320 staff members will have to be made redundant, with Wong saying he feels "I owe them a lot."

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development for Hong Kong Greg So said in a radio interview several criteria had been considered before the Chief Executive-in-Council made the ruling, adding he was "sad" about the sackings.

Wong has not ruled out applying for judicial review in court, but he declined to reveal immediate plans for the company.

Legislators from different parties demanded more details in the decision-making progress, a move rejected by So.

Hong Kong has two free TV operators, Television Broadcast and Asia Television, but the decades-long market-monopolizing advantage TVB has enjoyed over rival ATV has stifled creativity, observers say.

The trend of people transitioning from TV to web-based broadcasts and mobile phones has also contributed to a decline in television viewers.

==Kyodo