Donald Tsang

Double standards at work

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2006, 12:00am

Health-care reform and the Commercial Radio poll controversy are separate issues, clearly. Yet, comparing the way the government approached them last week makes for interesting, but also disturbing, reading.

This paper reported on Wednesday that the Health and Medical Development Advisory Committee had deferred the release of a consultation document on financing models for health-care reform, originally scheduled for this summer.

Critics suggested that the proposed financial options could have affected any re-election campaign by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

It looks almost certain that any new financial models could result in an increased financial burden for the middle class in particular.

So, strong opposition to higher fees is inevitable, from middle-class-oriented political parties and the media.

As next year's chief executive election looms larger, the Tsang administration is anxious to remove politically sensitive and contentious issues from its agenda, to shore up its popularity.

The paranoia and inertia of the ruling team in dealing with unpopular issues runs in sharp contrast to the high-profile manner in which it joined the fray over a poll - about indecently assaulting female celebrities - initiated by a Commercial Radio programme.

Press reports said the Tsang team discussed the controversy at its daily meeting on Monday. On the same day, Education Secretary Arthur Li Kwok-cheung complained about the poll to the Broadcasting Authority. Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, as acting chief executive, reportedly blasted the broadcaster.

On Wednesday, the programme's two hosts were penalised by the company. Given the enormous public outcry against the senseless gimmick, it should come as no surprise that the cabinet kept abreast of developments on a daily basis.

Professor Li must feel obligated to send a strong and clear message to the community - particularly to students: namely, that it is wrong for media practitioners to promote bad taste, verging on unlawful behaviour, on the airwaves.

The assertive way the Tsang team stepped into the controversy was intriguing. No wonder sceptics raised their eyebrows, as they watched the government riding the tide of public anger against the radio station.

That is because there is a well-established, independent mechanism for fielding public complaints about media abuses, and violations of rules and regulations.

Concerned groups and the public at large have spoken up loudly in this case.

The deplorable state of public governance has been further illuminated by the government's rush to join the bandwagon of condemnation in this case, while it dodges - at least for now - a storm of controversy over health-care financing.

Although Mr Tsang has not yet declared that he will seek a second term, getting re-elected seems to have become the most important consideration of his administration.

For that to happen, as Mr Tsang knows only too well, he must remain popular. Any policy initiatives that might weaken his appeal are doomed to go on the back burner.

Conversely, the government loses no time in acting on issues that have an immediate, positive impact on its popularity and the community's feel-good sentiments.

Is it a coincidence that newspaper headlines have been fixated on a spate of controversies in the past few weeks? They include the radio poll row, the 'Bus Uncle' farce and the question of whether Mr Tsang attended a pro-democracy concert 17 years ago.

People should be forgiven for their obsession with small matters when the government fails to think big and envision the future.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large