Hong Kong to liberalise rules for cross-media ownership in first major broadcasting policy change in 17 years

February 20, 2018
Industry News
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Ng Kang-chung
kc.ng@scmp.com

Proposal by government would allow some media owners to acquire other broadcasting licences, in bid to encourage innovation and investment in the industry

Cross-media ownership rules in Hong Kong will finally be liberalised under proposed changes to broadcasting regulations widely viewed as outdated since they have remained unchanged for 17 years

If the suggested changes, laid out in a public consultation document released on Tuesday by the government, are approved by the Legislative Council, newspaper owners, advertising agencies and other media companies will be able to get into the free TV, pay TV or radio broadcasting business.

They had previously been banned from cross-media holdings to avoid editorial uniformity and a potential industry monopoly, but a rapidly changing media landscape and technological advances have prompted a total rethink.

However, the ban on awarding new broadcasting licences will remain in place for those already running free TV, pay TV or radio businesses.

And individuals who have yet to gain permanent residency through seven consecutive years of living in Hong Kong will not be given new licences either, making such businesses off-limits to overseas or mainland Chinese owners.

Besides relaxing cross-media ownership rules, the government also proposed to: refine restrictions on foreign control by allowing non-Hong Kong residents to own more shares in free TV companies without securing the government’s approval; allow free TV and sound broadcasting licensees to be subsidiary, rather than independent companies; and keep the status quo in granting approval for broadcasting licences.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said “the proliferation of online infotainment covering a range of different tastes, focuses and stances” meant the risk of editorial uniformity in traditional media “had been significantly reduced”.

“Our goal is to facilitate innovation of and investment in the industry to bring about greater benefits to the community,” Yau said, adding that easing the rules could also help traditional media stay afloat amid increasing competition from their internet-based counterparts.

While the city’s dominant free-to-air broadcaster, TVB, welcomed the government move as long overdue, some academics and experts were lukewarm about it, seeing the official approach as too conservative.
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