Receiving "unauthorised" overseas satellite TV signals is not illegal under the Broadcasting Ordinance. Yet a bar in Sai Kung wrote an open letter "admitting" that they had been naughty:
"We did not pay the fair price for this programming. We now recognise that our actions were illegal and wrong. We will not repeat them."
They were forced to issue this public apology because the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association (Casbaa) took legal action and Poets (the bar) could not afford to defend themselves in court, and so settled the case. From the SCMP (subscription required):
But why, if the problem is so widespread and the number of bars taking unauthorised feed so great, has action only been taken against one, privately owned bar in Sai Kung? Why did Casbaa not send out a stronger message by taking court action against a number of offenders, or by targeting a bigger and better-known bar? The owners of Poets declined to speak about the case, saying they had put the dispute behind them, but friends say they seriously considered contesting the case in the High Court and would have done so if it had not been for the huge legal costs involved.
"They were receiving and paying for a satellite service that might be unauthorised but isn't illegal under current legislation," one friend said. "They believed it would have been a difficult case for the broadcasters to win. They also believe the reason Poets was chosen as a target was because it was a small bar that couldn't afford to fight back.
"As it was, the costs of the case almost closed Poets down. But if the broadcasters had taken on a bigger bar with more resources, they might have found themselves with a real fight on their hands."
Casbaa chief executive officer Simon Twiston-Davies responded that it was "unfair to the organisation and unfair to the industry" to suggest that Poets had been targeted because it had limited resources.
"We don't pick on small players. We don't pick on anybody," he said. "We moved forward on that particular case but there have been many, many others where we didn't find ourselves obliged to take legal action. Instead, we came to amicable arrangements where they have legitimised their service."
The interesting point here is that if Casbaa took on a bigger company they might well lose the case. So they threaten legal action and then settle before it gets to court (they asked Poets to pay HK$100,000, but settled for HK$30,000 and the letter mentioned above). In spite of this action, many bars in Hong Kong still use "unauthorized" satellite signals from overseas:
Noel Smyth, managing director of sports bar chain Delaney's and Dublin Jack in Lan Kwai Fong, said the proliferation of unauthorised satellite systems in Hong Kong bars was at least partly due to the high cost and patchy quality of legitimate services.
Major chains subscribe to unauthorised satellite systems and authorised broadcasters because they want to be sure that key sporting events are available to their customers. "They [Casbaa] know about it and they are not delighted but they accept it so far because we subscribe to the authorised channels as well," he said.
In spite of there being a reasonable number of sports channels available on Now and Cable TV, many sporting events are still not available here on any of those channels, and, even when they are, the coverage tends towards the inane. Understandably, bar owners resent this state of affairs. Yet Casbaa want the law changed to make it illegal to watch unauthorized satellite channels.
Fortunately there is little chance of the government doing that, so this pantomime will continue.