Chinese broadcaster Phoenix Hong Kong Television’s application for a free-to-air TV licence has sparked concerns about China’s encroachment in the Hong Kong media industry.

The broadcaster’s parent company, Phoenix Satellite Television, announced on Monday that it had submitted a free-to-air TV licence application to the Communications Authority in May this year.

It said that if the application is approved, the broadcaster will restructure to bring it into compliance with Hong Kong laws.

The Communications Authority told HKFP that there are currently three applications. The two other applicants are HKTV and Forever Top Asia, a newly-established company owned by the son of ATV’s former chairman Deacon Chiu Te-ken. ATV was one of the first free TV stations in the territory but shuttered last April after nearly six decades in business.

Relationship with the Chinese government

Phoenix TV’s background raises concerns about Chinese influence in Hong Kong’s television industry.

Though based in Hong Kong, Phoenix TV’s target audience is mainland Chinese. It is also among the few private television broadcasters permitted to operate in mainland China.

Liu Changle, founder and CEO of Phoenix TV’s parent company Phoenix Satellite Television, is a member of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The CEO said that Phoenix TV gave a 10 percent stake to Chinese state-owned broadcaster CCTV upon its founding as a “symbolic gesture” to show that it would not oppose the Chinese Communist Party.

(left to right) Zhang Xiaoming of the China Liaison Office, Chief Executive CY Leung, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and Liu Changle attended Phoenix TV’s 20th anniversary ceremony. Photo: GovHK.

Veteran journalist Bruce Lui Ping-kuen told Apple Daily that Phoenix TV’s application indicates a shift in Beijing’s strategy to influence Hong Kong media. He said that the Chinese government may want to make news reporting appear more credible by buying or running private media outlets.

Lui added that ATV’s closing meant that the government needed another pro-Beijing TV station.

Liu Changle, Phoenix TV’s founder and CEO, in 2008. Photo: Wikicommons.

‘Very good chance’

To Yiu-ming, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that Phoenix TV stands a very good chance of getting the licence because of its good relationship with the Chinese government.

He added that Phoenix TV’s application gives the Hong Kong government an excuse to reject HKTV’s application. “If there was only one application, it would be difficult for the government to justify its rejection,” the professor said.

Currently four companies own free-to-air broadcasting licences in Hong Kong.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.