ATV set to pull the plug

After months of teetering on the edge, Asia Television Limited, the oldest Hong Kong television broadcaster, will go dark today (4 March), as a court has ruled that liquidators can close the beleaguered TV broadcaster immediately.

On Monday, the television broadcaster’s provisional liquidator, the accounting firm Deloitte, said that all of ATV’s employees would be laid off, but ATV approached the High Court in an attempt to stop the action.

The court had then ordered ATV’s new investor Rongbin Si enter into a dialogue with Deloitte, but by yesterday (3 March) no deal was reached and the court determined that staff dismissals must now go ahead.

Deloitte China’s southern region managing partner Derek Lai yesterday announced all employees of ATV would be dismissed this morning. The time when broadcasting will stop will depend on after they contact the station’s engineering department.

However, after the court decision, Si’s representative Tsz-wai Ho held a press conference on Friday afternoon and displayed a suitcase filled with cash to show that the new investor has enough money to keep the station afloat.

Ho also accused Deloitte of "shuting down ATV crudely" and having no "social responsibility".

ATV spokesman Jeff Wong had said Si would have injected $10 million needed to continue operations for the rest of the month. He also said that as an ATV employee, he did not want to see the station being shut down while it still had broadcasting rights.

Deloitte said the station had debts of some $350 million with staff unpaid.

The Communications Authority said it has received a notification from Deloitte, but since the information was incomplete so the authority had asked the liquidators to clarify the date they intended to stop broadcasting.

The cash-strapped broadcaster failed to pay its staff their December and January wages, and employees sought help from the Labour Department, while some left their posts.

Meanwhile, Gregory So, the secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said ATV was really something not controllable by the government, but “we could do our best to minimise the interruption of services”.

He added that RTHK would take over the analogue spectrum and roll out the service around 10 March at the earliest.

However, RTHK said it will not start broadcasting news and other planned new programmes until April.

ATV has been in financial difficulties for several years. Last year it was given notice by the government that it would lose its broadcast licence with effect from 1 April, 2016.

The official closure means it would be a matter of just 28 days before its deadline for closure.