Sharing the blame

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 1996, 12:00am

When politicians take refuge in attacking the media, it is always a sure sign they have done something morally wrong. So it was no surprise to see Urban Councillors accuse the press of irresponsibly covering their secret purchase of shares in Kwong On Bank, a company headed by council chairman Dr Ronald Leung Ding-bong.

The hypocrisy of such councillors knows no bounds. Having initially refused to answer reporters' questions on the affair, they now blame the media for the minor inaccuracies that were a direct result of their own evasiveness.

Rather than follow the lead of the Democratic Party, which managed to salvage some dignity by apologising for its members' involvement, the councillors instead had the gall to criticise the party for its expression of contrition. If those involved really had nothing to hide, they would have welcomed councillor Chan Tim-shing's call for an independent inquiry rather than criticising and rejecting it.

The Urban Councillors clearly believe the media has no business investigating such matters. Dr Leung made as much clear with his extraordinary warning: 'If the media is not responsible, I won't support press freedom.' That displays a dangerous intolerance which is especially damaging at this sensitive stage in the transition. The media has played a valuable role in this affair, exposing a potential conflict of interest between the councillors' personal finances and public duties.

Rather than shoot the messenger, the correct response should be to examine what has gone wrong and concentrate on drawing up a comprehensive code of conduct for councillors that will prevent similar incidents in the future.

The Stock Exchange should also re-examine listing regulations that allowed such a large tranche of Kwong On Bank shares to be sold to institutional investors, some of which ended up in the hands of the councillors', when the public offering was 23 times over-subscribed.

There are many lessons from this unfortunate affair. But, judging from the councillors' reaction so far, they have no interest in learning them.