Journalists and politicians have lamented a potential blow to media diversity in the city after the parent company of pay-television station i-Cable announced on Thursday that divestment talks have failed, and that it will cease funding the network.

i-Cable’s pay-TV licence expires on May 31. Although it has obtained a 12-year licence extension and planned to set up the free-to-view Fantastic Television network, its future beyond then remains uncertain.

Cable TV Tower in Tsuen Wan. Photo: Wpcpey via Wikicommons.

Founded in 1993, i-Cable operates a 24-hour Cantonese-language news network in Hong Kong, with an investigative news team in mainland China. It also hosts sports, entertainment and film channels.

‘Hong Kong’s loss’

Former prominent i-Cable journalists Sharon Cheung and Bruce Lui both expressed their disappointment at parent company Wharf Holdings’ announcement on Facebook.

Cheung – famous for being scolded as “too simple, sometimes naive” by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin – claimed that Wharf shareholder Peter Woo had never interfered with the operations of the news team.

“After I was scolded by Jiang Zemin in 2000… none of the company’s executives requested to see me,” she recalled. “[Woo] just asked me with a smile: ‘Did you get a scare? Come back and get some rest.’”

Currently in Beijing, Woo has so far not responded to media enquiries as to whether the network would shut down or dismiss any of its 2,000 employees.

Cheung added that other media owners tended to use public broadcasting for private, ulterior purposes, while Woo did not.

“It’s Hong Kong’s loss. When Hong Kong doesn’t even have i-Cable, what does it have left?”

Cable China Desk

Lui, now a Baptist University lecturer, told Apple Daily that i-Cable was more outspoken than channels such as TVB, and had the best investigative and mainland China news coverage in Hong Kong. “God save i-Cable!” he added on Facebook.

In 2012, mainland rights activist Li Wangyang was widely believed to have been murdered by authorities – a death which was framed as a suicide – after an interview with i-Cable.

On Friday, the network’s China news team released rare behind-the-scenes photographs of its ongoing coverage of the “two meetings” in Beijing on Facebook.

Photo: i-Cable via Facebook.

“Even though we know that most questions and answers at press conferences will be pre-arranged, we won’t give up,” wrote the team. “We will fight for every opportunity to ask questions.”

In a press release, pro-democracy legislator Roy Kwong lauded the network for reporting on livelihood issues and supervising the government in Hong Kong, and covering the suppression of political rights in the mainland.

“We understand that as a private institution, it would be difficult for us to intervene,” he said. “But we hope that the group will consider its social responsibility, and allow i-Cable to continue speaking up for the people.”

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.