Media duty to clear the air of verbal pollution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 12:00am


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THE HONG KONG MEDIA seem highly tolerant when it comes to verbal pollution. Everyday the Government feeds them statements and speeches that are often pregnant with lofty but empty language.

Frequent use of the word 'regret' is one particular ploy. Rather than apologise or even admit to any wrongdoing, officials in the hot seat often hide behind the linguistic ambiguity of this word.

One classic example of this is a government statement issued last June after the then Housing Authority chief Dr Rosanna Wong Yick-ming stepped down over the piling scandal in public housing projects.

'The Secretary for Housing, Mr Dominic Wong Shing-wah,' it asserts, 'regrets that Dr Rosanna Wong has resigned from the chairmanship of the Hong Kong Housing Authority'.

What Mr Wong had found regrettable might well be the almost unanimous sentiment of the public at large that she should resign. Lacking the courage to confront mainstream public opinion, the best he could muster was a vague statement of regret.

His colleague resorted to similar evasive tactics last November amid public outrage over the unusual settlement of some residential buildings on the Tseung Kwan O reclamation site.

At a press conference, Director of Territory Development, Wong Hung-kin, said: 'The Government regrets the concerns that have been felt by various residents of Tseung Kwan O, we have worked as quickly as we can to remove their uncertainties and give assurance of the safety of their homes.'

This is a roundabout way of maintaining that his department has done nothing wrong. Since it would have been politically incorrect to call the victims ignorant, he instead resorted to pointing a finger of blame at those inanimate 'concerns'.

When the doors of a courtroom in Tsuen Wan Magistracy were kept locked during the hearing of a robbery case in July last year, the Police Public Relations Bureau churned out the following brief statement, stressing: 'The police have no intention to block the free access to the hearing and regret to have caused inconvenience to members of the public and media representatives who covered the case.'

The police did not even acknowledge the fact that certain officers had breached the normal practice of allowing public access to such hearings. Instead they were only prepared to regret the 'inconvenience' caused.

'Confidence' is another hackneyed term employed by high-ranking officials. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, in particular, is prone to using this term.

In his welcoming speech at the Spring Reception held at Government House last month, he repeated four times his confidence in the SAR's economic future.

But that was actually relatively restrained by Mr Tung's standards. At the 25th Annual Dinner of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers last April, he spoke about his confidence six times. The real overkill came at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Summit in December 1999, when he said no less than eight times that he was confident the economy and the job market would improve.

Unless the local media set their standards higher, readers can expect to continue to be bombarded with 'confidence' and 'regrets' in the guise of bureaucratic mumble disguised as news.

Andy Ho is a political commentator