It appears that everything in Hong Kong does have a commercial component. How else do we explain the recent profile of our Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen on both stations of ATV (the Chinese Home and the English World).
For those who missed it, our dear leader offered the television station's news department an
up-close and personal view into Government House, his off-duty time as a family man and husband, his beloved koi pond as well as an in-depth political interview with each channel's respective news authority.
More than a little odd was that these news specials had a sponsor. Eu Yan Sang is a Chinese herbal health supplement manufacturer and the flagship product promoted in the specials was their Bak Foong pill which, for the lack of a more technical explanation, helps women regulate their hormones.
The idea of Tsang indirectly being a spokesman for relieving PMS is highly amusing. But more unusual is that there would be a commercial sponsor at all for such a news-oriented programme. I mean, can you imagine: 'and now, a CNN special with President George W. Bush ... sponsored by Red Bull, it gives you wings!'
Politics and sponsors may make for strange bedfellows, but media critics overseas would have a field day crying foul that journalistic integrity has been sold out to advertisers. In Hong Kong, it's no problem. Our free-market philosophy means our chief executive programme could have been promoted by a Portland Street sauna and it's still all good.
Curiously, the station's other recent public affairs coup doesn't have a sponsor. Regina's Blog, an interview series in Cantonese hosted by our former Secretary of Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, does not have one of those little promo tags at the end of its title - the kind that goes something like: White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou's movie special sponsored by White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou.
Perhaps it's all part of an elaborate ploy to make Ip more appealing to the democracy-loving Hong Kong public, before Beijing makes her our next chief executive. You can bet her future TV specials won't be plugging any herbal medicine. More likely,
they will just cut into whatever
re-education programme is on with the pronouncement: 'And now, an edict from your all powerful leader.'
Fortunately, not all of us are that paranoid.
Some stand behind our free enterprise electronic media and think the pan-democrats should just buy airtime to vent their opinions. They might consider taking out a portion of TVB Pearl's new advertorial show, Dolce Vita. Instead of some paid insight about luxury products from vacuous hosts who regurgitate press releases, the Civic Party or the Frontier can offer TVB a promotional fee to seduce us with universal suffrage as the next ultimate international status symbol.
Politics as entertainment is not a new idea but only recently have the two worlds intertwined. Ever since John F. Kennedy met Richard Nixon in the first televised debate, American politics have been influenced by the power of the media. Politicians now have to be as aware of their public image as much as their policies (OK, maybe not bread-munching, shoulder-rub offering and obscenity-cursing George Dubya).
Lately, the inner sanctum of public offices has even become fodder for fiction. It started with silly comedy series like Michael J. Fox's Spin City, set in the New York mayor's office. Then came the sharply astute writing of The West Wing and the speculative feminist vision of an American female president in Commander in Chief, not to mention other movies or TV series like Air Force One, Wag the Dog or 24 where the mechanics of a government play a vital dramatic role.
This is what Hong Kong television really needs to spice up the usual soapy serials. How about a dramatic series set in Government House about a fictional chief executive who must balance family troubles with motherland crises? Or perhaps they can recruit DoDo Cheng Yu-ling to portray Hong Kong's first female head honcho who changes from a big-haired bureaucrat to a beloved champion of the people. Viewers would have a field day just trying to decide whether it's based on Anson or Regina. And you can bet advertisers would line up for that one.