Chapter 2 Sustaining the Development of the Broadcasting Industry
The Development of Digital Terrestrial Television Services
Re-assignment of Spectrum for the Provision of Domestic Free Television Programme Services
Following the decision of the CE in C on 1 April 2015 not to renew the free TV licence of ATV and to extend the term of ATV’s licence to 1 April 2016, the CA, in exercise of its power under the TO, gave notice to ATV on 20 April 2015 on the withdrawal, with effect from 2 April 2016, of all the broadcasting frequencies assigned to ATV (comprising two sets of analogue frequency channels, one digital multiplex of the single frequency network and half of the capacity of one digital multiplex of the multiple frequency network (“MFN”) in 470 – 806 MHz of the Ultra High Frequency band).
We assisted the CA in processing HKTVE’s application to employ spectrum, on top of a fixed network, as an additional transmission means for the delivery of its licensed free TV service. Following the agreement of HKTVE to comply with all the additional conditions the CA imposed, the CA approved in January 2016 HKTVE’s application for using spectrum as an additional transmission means and re-assigned, from the date of withdrawal of the ATV’s broadcasting frequencies, half of the capacity of the MFN to HKTVE for delivery of its digital terrestrial television (“DTT”) service.
To mitigate the impact arising from a reduction of analogue free TV programme choices on the viewing public, RTHK was assigned the two sets of analogue frequency channels on 2 April 2016 to broadcast its TV services in analogue format upon expiry of ATV’s free TV licence until the switching off of analogue TV broadcasting services (“analogue switch-off”). The Government’s working target for analogue switch-off is end-2020, and a review will be conducted in 2017-18.
OFCA worked closely with the broadcasters concerned to plan for the cessation of ATV’s free TV service at 00 Hours on 2 April 2016, the changeover of broadcasting spectrum, and the transmission of RTHK’s two analogue television programme channels and HKTVE’s DTT programme channel from the early hours of 2 April 2016. With broadcasters’ concerted efforts, the switch-over of the free TV services took place in a seamless manner.
Development of Digital Audio Broadcasting Services
Digital Audio Broadcasting (“DAB”) services were launched in 2012. As at 31 March 2016, the two DAB licensees, namely Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited (“DBC”)1and Metro2, provided a total of ten DAB channels, and RTHK provided another five.
The DAB transmission network, comprising seven principal transmitting stations located at Beacon Hill, Castle Peak, Cloudy Hill, Golden Hill, Kowloon Peak, Lamma Island and Mount Gough, was officially launched in June 2012. Three new DAB gap-fillers were completed in 2015.
Handling of Broadcast Complaints
The CA does not pre-censor broadcast content, but adopts a complaint-driven approach to ensure that broadcast content complies with existing legislation, licence conditions and the codes of practice that it has issued. As the executive arm of the CA, we assist the CA in handling complaints about broadcast materials in accordance with provisions stipulated in the Broadcasting (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 391) (“B(MP)O”) and the broadcast complaint handling procedures of the CA.
In 2015/16, we dealt with 1 999 cases (14 992 complaints)3 , which represented a decline of 26% in the number of cases, and a decline of 64% in the number of complaints processed4, as compared with the figures recorded in 2014/15 (2 694 cases and 41 449 complaints). Among these, 15 cases (9 374 complaints) were referred to the Broadcast Complaints Committee (“BCC”) under the CA for consideration before submission to the CA for deliberation and determination. Details of the complaint cases considered by the CA are published on the CA website. Under powers delegated by the CA, the Director-General of Communications handled the remaining 1 984 cases (5 618 complaints). These complaints were related to breaches of a minor nature, or allegations which did not constitute any breach or were outside the remit of section 11(1) of the B(MP)O, that is, the substance of the complaints did not involve a contravention of legislation, licence conditions or codes of practice.
Applications for Domestic Free Television Programme Services Licences
Since the CE in C approved in principle the application for a free TV licence by Fantastic TV in October 2013, we had assisted the CA in taking follow-up actions on the outstanding issues of Fantastic TV’s application. Upon Fantastic TV’s requests, the CE in C gave it additional time to resolve all outstanding issues and satisfactorily address the concerns of the CA in relation to its application, including, among others, the proposed corporate restructuring to ensure its compliance with the non-subsidiary requirement under the BO. On the basis of the supplementary information provided by Fantastic TV, we assisted the CA to making further recommendations on the application to the CE in C in April 2016.
Having regard to, inter alia, the CA’s recommendations on the licence application of Fantastic TV, the CE in C formally granted in May 2016 a 12-year free TV licence to Fantastic TV for the provision of free TV services. Fantastic TV is required under its licence to launch its first free TV channel within 12 months after licence grant, i.e. by 30 May 2017. OFCA will assist the CA in monitoring the launch of the free TV service by Fantastic TV in accordance with its licence.
Up to March 2016, the CA received two further applications for free TV licences – from HKTV in April 2014 and Forever Top in April 2015. OFCA assisted the CA in assessing HKTV’s free TV licence application in accordance with statutory requirements and established procedures and the CA’s assessment and recommendations were submitted to the CE in C in January 2016. OFCA will continue to assist the CA in assessing the free TV licence application of Forever Top properly and prudently with a view to submitting its recommendations to the CE in C as soon as practicable.
Applications for Renewal of a Domestic Pay Television Programme Service Licence
The domestic pay television programme service licence of HKCTV is due to expire on 31 May 2017. HKCTV submitted its application for licence renewal to the CA in May 2015. In accordance with the BO and established procedures, we assisted the CA in carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the performance of HKCTV, including conducting a one-month public consultation exercise in August 2015 to collect public views on the renewal application. The CA’s recommendations on the licence renewal application were submitted to the CE in C in April 2016.
Applications for Renewal of Analogue Sound Broadcasting Licences
We assisted the CA in preparing and submitting to the CE in C its recommendations on the renewal of the analogue sound broadcasting licences of CRHK and Metro in May 2015. Having conducted a comprehensive review of their past performance, and taking into account the views of the public, the CA recommended that the analogue sound broadcasting licences of CRHK and Metro should be renewed for a term of 12 years from 26 August 2016 to 25 August 2028. The CE in C decided on 22 March 2016 to renew the licences of CRHK and Metro.
Follow-up to Non-renewal of a Domestic Free Television Programme Service Licence
The CE in C decided in April 2015 not to renew ATV’s free TV licence and to extend the term of its licence to 1 April 2016 in accordance with the requirement under the BO. This is the first time in Hong Kong’s broadcasting history that an incumbent’s broadcasting licence has not been renewed. It remained, however, incumbent upon ATV to comply at all times with all applicable regulatory requirements under the BO and the conditions in its free TV licence until the expiry of its licence. In this regard, we assisted the CA in closely monitoring ATV’s operation and its compliance with the BO and licence conditions in the run up to the expiry of its licence. In view of the serious breaches of the statutory and licence requirements by ATV, the CA had imposed on ATV sanctions which were commensurate with the nature and severity of its breaches, including invoking the procedures under the BO to suspend the free TV licence of ATV for a period of 30 days5. Notwithstanding the CA’s subsequent decision not to proceed further with the licence suspension procedures due to pragmatic considerations, the CA had put ATV on clear notice that the severity and repeated nature of its breaches will form part of the business record of ATV and the persons exercising control of it at the time the breaches occurred, and may be considered by the CA on future occasions when the need arises for assessing the fitness and properness of ATV and persons exercising control of it.