How free are media in Hong Kong? This is a question I couldn’t help asking myself these days. In a previous post I wrote about Alpais Lam Wai-Sze, a primary school teacher who swore at police officers because they allegedly did not prevent a Communist association from harassing members of Falun Gong, a religious group that is illegal in mainland China.
The media response to this event in Hong Kong was very critical. Not critical of the police, but of the teacher and of Falun Gong. I would go as far as to say that the teacher has been the victim of a slander campaign.
How deep Hong Kong media’s self-censorship is, has become clear to me by reading the South China Morning Post (SCMP). The SCMP, which was once considered one of the best English language newspapers in Asia, constantly features pro-establishment, pro-Beijing, and anti-democracy articles. One example of this I could see yesterday, on Monday 19.
On page A2 appeared the usual column by Alex Lo. I have talked a few times about him, because his pro-establishment stance is very conspicuous and can’t go unnoticed if you have a minimum of critical spirit. For instance, during the Hutchison Whampoa strike a few months ago, he clearly sided with the establishment and the business elite by arguing that Hong Kong is by nature apolitical and business-oriented. So, if you talk about politics or disturb business, Alex Lo might say you are not a ‘true Hong Konger’.
Apparently, I am not the only one who has noticed Mr Lo’s pro-establishment views. The New York Times, in a recent article about Alpais Lam Wai-Sze, also quoted Alex Lo because he dismissed the incident as “a minor spat” and attacked the teacher.
On Monday Alex Lo wrote again about Mrs Lam. “What did disturb me is her self-righteousness captured on video,” he stated, “her sense of superiority of being an “authentic” Hong Kong person […].”
After throwing in some sarcastic remarks about Mrs Lam’s English and saying he hoped she wasn’t an English teacher, Mr Lo lectures his readers about the teacher profession:
“Moral or intellectual certainty is counterproductive in teaching . All the good teachers I had from high school to college prefer to raise doubts and make us ask questions. […] The best teacher of Marxism I had was not a Marxist, but an American neo-conservative politics professor. Good teachers are the enemies of ideologues.“
That is a funny statement. First of all, I fail to understand how “self-righteousness” can be captured on video and how one can assume to understand an individual’s personality by just watching a few minutes-long recording. Second, Mr Lo’s columns are way more self-righteous, and he, too, divides people in ‘true’ and ‘not true’ Hong Kongers, as I have explained before. But what’s more, Mr Lo seems to have not noticed that China is a one-party rule, and that if teachers should be the enemies of ideologues, then he is saying that teachers should be the enemies of the Communist Party.
You know, I don’t mind people defending the Communist Party or the Chinese government. But if you want to do that, at least try to find some plausible arguments. Instead, Alex Lo basically shoots his own arm with the gun he wanted to use against his opponents. Besides, Mrs Lam was not working during that demonstration, she wasn’t there in her function as a teacher. As a private citizen, she has the right to get angry and protest just like anyone else. In a country where high officials are not monitored by the media, it is ridiculous to ask of teachers to become a sort of super human beings that should be on alert 24-hours a day. It is obvious that such high moral standards are only applied to people who criticise the establishment and the government.
All right, you may say. That was just an article. Alex Lo is a columnist, he is entitled to have his opinion. Right. But then you leaf through the paper, and on page A12 you find the Letters section which contains readers’ letters to the SCMP. One of the letters was entitled: “Teacher was setting bad example“. The author said:
“She [Mrs Lam] was rude and swearing at police. This is not just a personal issue, but one that relates to society. She had clearly lost her self-control and was not behaving as citizens are supposed to behave in a society and I would not expect this of a primary school teacher.“
Just to let you understand. If you are a Hong Kong teacher, and you see a pro-Communist group harass Falun Gong, and you have the perception that the police are tolerating this, you should not get angry and react, but walk away. That is how “citizens are supposed to behave in society” (I wonder who has decided how we should behave in society): you just keep quiet and walk away. That’s what we should teach our children. Keep quiet, think about your career, don’t get into trouble. That’s none of your business. Sorry, but I prefer my children to have a teacher who stands up for law and justice.
If my memory doesn’t fail me, on the previous day another letter from a reader that criticised Mrs Lam had been published on the SCMP. Impartiality means that you allow one reader to say something in favour of her, and another to say something against her. But if all letters are against her, then people will think Mrs Lam is a hooligan because they hear only one side of the story.
Okay, you’re already tired of reading this newspaper, but full of hope you give it another chance and go on to the next page. Where you find an article entitled: “The tale of the foul-mouthed teacher just gets curiouser and curiouser” (page A13). Here the author explains:
“Apparently, it all started with Falun Gong undertaking one of their regular propaganda exercises. Now, I lost all my sympathy for this organisation some years ago when I learned that the founder, Li Hongzhi, believes in apartheid.“
The author means that Falun Gong’s founder, Li Hongzhi, allegedly believes that there are different paradises for different ethnic groups. I know very little about Falun Gong, so I can’t tell if the author of this article is right. He gives no particular quotation and doesn’t specify the source. I searched online, but so far I have found no book or article corroborating that Li Hongzhi believed in apartheid.
The author then continues:
“Most teachers understand that they are professionals who hold a special position in society because they have a unique role in shaping the next generation, and the community expects them to behave accordingly. Someone needs to explain to Lam that apologies should be directed to the people she has maligned, not just those in a position to question her own position.“
Let’s make this clear. Teachers should behave accordingly during their working hours. What they do outside of school, it’s their business. They can go clubbing, be divorced, and also endorse political parties and groupings. Teachers are not supposed to be saints or supermen. I have friends and relatives who are teachers, and sometimes they do swear, or lose their temper. That’s human. High moral standards are just an excuse to bash her. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you are a teacher or not. What matters is what political views you have and if you want to express them publicly. During the Hutchison Whampoa strike, newspapers kept on saying the workers were damaging Hong Kong. It seems that whenever someone touches vested interests, there is always an excuse to put them down.
Well, now you are exhausted. You want to finish reading this newspaper as quickly as possible. But again, what do you find on page C3? You find an article entitled: “Voice of the Silent Majority.”
“The Silent Majority for Hong Kong” is a group that opposes the “Occupy Central” movement, a pro-democracy civil movement that demands universal suffrage. Occupy Central was initiated by Hong Kong Professor Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting. As we can see, if you’re a protesting teacher, you don’t live up to social standards; if you’re a protesting worker, you’re damaging business and are too greedy; and if you’re a professor, you’re causing too much trouble. Apparently, there is a reason for every profession not to protest.
Mr Ho Lok-sang, a speaker for The Silent Majority” who is professor of Lingnan University’s Centre for Public Policy Studies, declares in the article: “The pursuit of universal suffrage is subordinate to the rule of law […]. We have substantial equality in Hong Kong, which should not be sacrificed in a fight for equal electoral rights […] The pursuit of democracy isn’t a pressing issue.”
The message conveyed in this article is something you can hear quite often from the pro-establishment camp. Like Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, they are telling us that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Everything is good. Everything is fine. No reason to fight, to get angry, to protest. Actually, no reason to have an opinion at all. Opinions are pre-made, ready for you to agree with.
(to be continued…)