The view from the other side

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 January, 2005, 12:00am

The room at RTHK was certainly familiar, but this time, I took a different seat - and a different role. In October, I began as a guest presenter, every Tuesday, on Ng Chi-sum's phone-in programme Open Line, Open View.

Needless to say, when I stepped into the room, it was a new scenario for me. The presence of a TV crew, there to film my change from a politician to a radio host, heightened the tension. During the first 30 minutes, I was so conscious of the presence of the camera that my performance was far from acceptable.

After six years in the Legislative Council, I understand that a politician talks to spread the message, has to talk about the right thing, and has to stop talking when the message has got through. When I was a guest on a show, I responded to questions, then the host would take care of the rest, including filling in the gaps and finishing at just the right second. Now that is my job, too.

Interacting with the phone-in audience is a skill that I have yet to learn. Politicians try hard to convince others and, more often than not, talk too much. A phone-in show is a carrier of public opinion, the research team gathers information that helps people understand the issues, and the host invites the public to speak up. When people engage in rational debate, the community is able to reach a consensus.

To better communicate with the audience, I have to avoid technical terms which are often quoted in Legco papers. Every time I go on air, I have my notebook to hand, which reminds me of the dos and don'ts, for instance, cite my information sources; ask open questions; minimise the use of English; and avoid jargon and abbreviations used only by insiders. The checklist works.

The thing that I enjoy most about hosting a phone-in show is the luxury of time. Legco allows a member only one question, plus a follow-up. Now, however, I can explore an issue for an hour or more, if the audience is interested. Often, people take different angles, come up with good ideas and witty remarks. At the end of the show, there is the spark of collective wisdom which takes the discussion another step forward.

Life gets tough when we broach topics that arouse strong emotions, for example, poverty. The Tung administration has, unfortunately, been successful in stigmatising CSSA recipients. Discrimination resulting from fear and misunderstanding is deeply rooted. Any sensible bureaucrat would be alarmed to hear the anger and hatred expressed by some callers. It is easy for the administration to do something which would divide the community. It takes wisdom and a long time to restore harmony.

Promoting rational debate and presenting both sides of the argument to the audience helps. Tolerance and diversity could be enhanced when there is room for everyone to express his or her view. We need universal suffrage to delegate people's power to an elected government. We also need deliberative democracy, with people well informed and able to participate. Hosting a phone-in show is much more than putting on headphones and talking into the microphone. Life has been good to me - my on-air partner, Ng, strictly observes professional ethics.

The switch from being a legislator to broadcasting has not altered my objective. I will exercise freedom of speech and give a voice to the voiceless so that more citizens will realise their rights and liberties. It is the goal shared by pan-democrats in the political arena and civil society.

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a former legislator, is now a radio host and a columnist for two Chinese newspapers. She is also a Central and Western district councillor