Media guilty of double standards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 February, 1998, 12:00am


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Last May the Journalism Department of the Chinese University published findings of a survey on press freedom conducted in the summer of 1996. More than 550 journalists replied to 900 questionnaires sent to 22 news organisations.

More than half the respondents agreed the news media were wary of criticising the Chinese government. More than a third said the media were reluctant to criticise big business.

This is understandable. News organisations depend on mainland-based and big local corporations for advertising. A full page advertisement costs more than $100,000.

Every day newspapers are crammed with ads from property companies. Thus their influence cannot be under-estimated. Some newspapers have even introduced marketing executives into editorial departments to plan strategy.

In the 1980s, an appointed legislative councillor said the Hong Kong Government's land and housing policy had resulted in a dozen property developers accumulating enormous wealth at the expense of millions of Hong Kong people. This is still true today. Many families spend more than half their income on rents or mortgages.

The question of rents in commercial premises came to a head recently when the businesses of some retailers were hit by the fall in tourism and the Asian financial meltdown.

Some property developers, like New World, offered to reduce rents. Others, like Wharf, refused. Wharf managers said the company would stick to the contractual agreements with the tenants.

Such argument was given extensive sympathetic airing in the media. Many editorials and commentaries emphasised the sanctity and inviolability of contracts, and said it was the foundation of the rule of law and cornerstone of 'one-country, two-systems'.

Some newspapers, including this one, attacked and vilified political groups which helped the shopkeepers, calling it unedifying electioneering.

No one would dispute the sanctity of contracts. What the Wharf shopkeepers wanted was sympathetic handling as demonstrated by New World.

The Frontier knows a contract must be honoured and can only be changed with mutual consent. As the shopkeepers could not even get a meeting with Wharf, they approached The Frontier for assistance.

Besides helping the shop-keepers secure a meeting with Wharf, members of The Frontier also helped workers whose contracts with their employers had been violated.

While many newspapers vociferously uphold the contracts of Wharf and other companies, few have bothered to highlight the plight of workers whose contracts have been negated. Do they know and do they care? Just this month alone, the Confederation of Trade Unions received numerous complaints about breach of contracts. A food company has terminated complimentary lunches to employees and started to charge for them.

A car park company has made employees work 12-hour days instead of eight-hour shifts, paying them $7,000 instead of $6,500 a month. A firm of solicitors has cut the pay of employees by 20 to 30 per cent.

A medical equipment company has terminated the payment of commission to employees. A cake shop has deferred paying its employees' salaries for several months.

The above were contracts which have been broken without negotiations and without the consent of the employees. Why have the employers' actions not been condemned by the self-righteous newspapers and commentators? This newspaper said: 'Elections sometimes bring out the worst in politicians.' It is noteworthy that high sounding editorials and malicious attacks cannot mask self-interest, double standards and hypocrisy.