Are you glad to see the back of the foreign media

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 1997, 12:00am

YES AS one who makes a living of sorts creeping about the corridors of the fourth estate, it would seem a trifle churlish to speak ill of the thousands of hard-working ladies and gentlemen of the foreign press who have spent sweaty days and bleary-eyed nights toiling after the great Hong Kong handover story. But I'm going to anyway.

If you've been unfortunate enough to have to leave your flat in the past fortnight, then you, like me, probably have bumps and bruises in all sorts of strange places from being poked, probed and prodded with lenses and microphones. And your brain is probably buzzing from being asked inane questions by earnest types with notebooks and funny accents. The best thing about the handover being over is that, with any luck, we'll never again have to endure endless grillings about what is going to happen.

Because now we'll find out.

On their own, or in small groups, journalists are generally a tolerable species (unless you happen to be royalty, a celebrity or a politician caught with his pants down). But when 8,000 of them converge for a big story, the herd mentality takes over. Silliness prevails. There are panicked stampedes and glassy-eyed stragglers who become separated from the pack. And when they run out of other ideas, they turn to the time-honoured tradition of interviewing each other. During one visit to the press centre, I watched, slack-jawed, as one television reporter from who-knows-where interviewed another television reporter from who-knows-where. From the ignorant questions and asinine answers it was obvious they weren't from around these here parts. They resembled nothing so much as two dumb dogs chasing each other's tails.

You would think that any media proprietor willing to spend megabucks getting their correspondents and crews to Hong Kong would at least insist that they be well-briefed. But to judge by some of the pap pouring out into the ether, the only decent briefing some of these morons had was when they packed their underpants.

For example, there was one writer from a respectable British broadsheet, sent here to stun Blighty with her incisive colour pieces, who was heard wandering the press centre wondering what an 'SAR' was. Then there was the Japanese television team who arrived the day before the big event and whose members were most irate that they hadn't been invited to the very-very-very-important-person-only handover banquet.

I'm tempted to send my next phone bill to a random selection of foreign media organisations, because I'm sick of returning worried messages from relatives abroad who have just read the latest doomsaying epistle. In fact, I'm so exhausted from the hot air offensive I can't even be bothered picking a fight with my fellow devil ... for at least a week.

Jason Gagliardi YES Well, it's been a week in which a British colony has faced its end. There has been much fearful weeping amidst the wreckage of the Empire. Though some have fled, others - despite severe warnings - have insisted on remaining to see what will happen next. Atrocious meterological conditions have prevailed.

And that's just in Montserrat. (One has to make the obvious comment here that to lose one colony is certainly misfortunate - two in the same week smacks of carelessness on a quite heroic scale.) But at least the inhabitants of that tiny Caribbean island haven't had to endure the spew of foreign hacks creeping over the surface of their economically fertile land. That's because they're doing it here.

But, of course, you know this already. You know this because when you tried to use Admiralty and Pacific Place carparks, the authorities said: 'Nope. Camera crews here only'. You know this because when you tried to hail a taxi, they all went sailing past filled with bristling booms and concussive cameras. And you know that the cameras are concussive because you were down in Central one day, minding your own business, (which, of course, wasn't your own business this week because you were under the media microscope) and 14 crews went by, trailing flexes and soundbites, crashing into you and each other.

I don't have a television but I found out what the hacks were beaming out to the rest of the world when my phone started ringing. There was usually a wobbly-lipped pal at the end of the echoing line saying: 'Are you okay? I've just been watching the news ...' And while I am the first to admit that being cast in the role of intrepid soul braving the unknown has an initial pleasurable frisson (crikey, I'm such a coward I've never even learnt how to swim), explaining myself has become tedious.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: That's a bit rich coming from a local hack. And maybe you have a point. But if you'd spent five minutes in this office in the past few months, dealing with calls from overseas media who think that local hacks exist solely to provide a private news service (no credit, no fee), you'd be weary too. Our particular favourite is the American editor of a well-known magazine who got his assistant to ring and see when we wanted to interview him. But we thought we'd already read enough by people who'd had searing insights on the journey from Kai Tak.

And so, dear reader, when they all clear off this weekend to some other unfortunate, newsworthy spot you'll just be left with us. Nice, eh? Which is why we thought you'd appreciate our very own symbol of reunification on this page today. Business as usual next week.

Fionnuala McHugh