Hong Kong’s Electoral Farce Also Shames the Media

Never before has there been a better visual illustration of Hong Kong’s electoral system for the chief executive.

While Beijing’s man, Donald Tsang, basked in glory at a supporters’

rally inside a walled-off, locked up sports ground on Friday evening, protesters

outside struggled to have their voices heard, wedging their loudspeakers in the

chinks and holes in the wall in vain to broadcast their miseries to Tsang.

And rarely has there been a better visual illustration of

the establishment’s horror at the hint of dissenting voices as workers from the

pro-Beijing parties that helped put on the event tried to muffle the sounds of protest

by literally boarding up the holes.

Dissent was being squeezed out. And given the local establishment’s

delusion that “bad news is bad for Hong Kong”,

the rally staff reflexively reacted at one stage and even tried to prevent the

reporters inside from observing the protest outside.

As Tsang told his audience how touched he was to see how

much he was adored by the public ahead of Sunday’s, uh, well not exactly

election, during “community visits” for his campaign, the fifty or so

protesters outside chanted, “Tsang

Yam-kuen! (eat shit).”

Tsang’s anointment for Chief Executive, which Hong Kong calls

an “election” even though the winner is pre-determined by Beijing and its cronies in the 795-member

election committee, is a farce. He won Sunday with 649 votes to 123 for the challenger

Alan Leong. Five votes were spoiled. I

guess that is something of an improvement over past “elections” in which the

pro-Beijing man ran unopposed.

Veteran democratic lawmaker, Emily Lau articulated the irony

of Tsang’s closing campaign event: “A

small-circle party for the small-circle election. Just as you cannot vote on Sunday, nor can

you share in the fun inside,” she said.

The Friday night rally for Tsang, which involved

performances from local celebrities for an audience of 3000 selected for their

loyal support, should have backfired.

Throughout the election period, his campaign team had been tight-lipped

about Tsang’s public appearances so that protesters could not plan ahead. Even reporters were not told where Tsang

would be until midnight the night before, so if reporters friendly with the pro-democracy

camp informed them, there would be no time to prepare.

Friday’s event on the other hand, was well publicized before

hand, allowing the more radical political parties to gather force. It was an amalgamation of environmental

activists and conservationists who stole the show with more manpower, more

loudspeakers, and well-tuned anti-Tsang slogans and posters.

One depicted a cartoon Godzilla with Tsang’s face, trampling

over the Star Ferry clock-tower, a much loved relic recently destroyed by the

administration to make way for more development on ever-shrinking Victoria Harbor.

Lawmaker-activist Leung Kwok-hung had prepared a red coffin

to hand to Tsang as a gift, congratulating him on his “promotion” to a second

term, thereby killing off Hong Kong freedoms.

Such arresting images usually get the press in a

frenzy, and, indeed, valiant photographers and reporters alike were getting

squashed and battered in the melee, climbing on trees and walls to capture the

moment. Tsang’s would become the perfect

illustration of the attitude: “I will

not hear nor see, those who do not agree with me.”

Alas. The local media showed itself only too

willing to submit to having their hands tied and mouths taped shut. Tsang’s boards may not have succeeded in

keeping the protesters quiet. But the

local news outlets got the message not to spoil the party.

There were no images of protesters in the region’s largest

English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, which was doubly

mystifying since it had a picture of an aesthetically disadvantaged teen with

grubby hands and yellow nails casting a mock ballot – a perfect second picture

to correspond with the story.

Instead, a picture of Tsang with his hands raised,

surrounded by high-profile supporters, was used on the front page, while on an inside

page was a story headlined, “Incumbent reflects on a wonderful journey.”

There was no mention of the protest at all in the English-language

business newspaper, The Standard. Small

pictures of protesters wedged in the wall of the playground were published in

some Chinese newspapers although the majority of the content concentrated on

Tsang’s speech and his “miracle journey.”

Ironically that same day, the democratic challenger, Alan

Leong, held a forum on freedom of expression, which had an unsurprisingly low

turnout. A journalism professor from Chinese University,

Joseph Chan, spoke of the “spiral of silence” that has gripped Hong Kong newspapers recently. “Unfortunately that spiral is spinning

downwards,” he said, citing a study that found in 2006, over 80 per cent of

reporters thought there was self-censorship in the industry.

Leong’s fellow Civic Party member, Margaret Ng, a former

journalist, said she usually refrained from speaking in such forums since they

were reserved for the public to voice opinions, but she could not contain her

dismay. She said it appeared to have

become the norm for government officials or information officers to phone a

senior editor to complain about a certain piece that has been published, or

influence a story about to be published.

She said that when she was a newspaper reporter, this would have sparked

outrage.

Unfortunately, ask any local reporter and they will tell you

they have had such an experience, or know a close friend who has. Most of the time, what seems to have angered

the official is not a factual error, but a certain angle, or the fact, that,

‘goodness gracious, you actually listen to those crazy NGOs?’ Apparently, a report cannot be fair unless

there is an exact balance of words dedicated to the government and the ‘other

side’.

Perhaps the government should sort out the one-sided

election first before complaining of one-sided news reports.

The writer is a

reporter for a Hong Kong newspaper.