In a blow to Hong Kong Television Network's hopes of finally being granted a free-to-air television licence, a judge yesterday temporarily halted his earlier order for the Executive Council to reconsider the station's failed bid.
Granting Exco a stay of execution, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung accepted that public resources - such as time and costs - could be wasted if Exco's appeal, scheduled for February 17, was successful or should the appeal court order the licence application process restarted.
He also noted that his verdict could lead to Exco having to consider three other applications in the run-up to the appeal.
Au previously ruled in the High Court that when Exco rejected HKTV's bid it failed to follow a 1998 pro-competition policy that suggested there be no limit on the number of free-to-air licences issued. He ordered the application be returned to Exco for reconsideration.
Although he refused to consider a suggestion yesterday by Exco barrister Benjamin Yu SC that his client had strong grounds for winning the appeal, he accepted part of Yu's submissions concerning the public interest.
Au told the station's barrister Jin Pao: "The prejudice for [HKTV] cannot be so significant it overrides the above reasons."
HKTV filed its first application for a licence in 2009.
Pao contended that there had not been any evidence as to what steps and types of action the council had taken that pointed to "a risk to of wasted expenditure".
HKTV, chaired by Ricky Wong Wai-kay, had suffered a significant delay throughout the application process, he said.
He also argued it was still conceivable HKTV might not be granted a licence - and even if the licence was approved before the appeal hearing, it would be subject to the outcome of the appeal.
The three companies that have filed applications are Asia Television, whose current licence expires on March 31; Forever Top, led by property tycoon David Chiu Tat-cheong and MGM China co-chairman Pansy Ho Chiu-king; and HKTV itself, which filed a new application after the failure of the one at the centre of this case.