Hong Kong’s Electoral Farce Also Shames the Media
|Our Correspondent||Mar 25, 2007|
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
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
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.