Donald Tsang

Media crys foul

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 4:06pm

The appointment of Rafael Hui Si-yan as Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's second-in-command two years ago took a lot of people by surprise. And he promised at that time that he would serve only two years and step down.

As Mr Tsang's new team assumed office on July 1, Mr Hui kept his promise and stepped down from his post.

Mr Hui is indeed a man of ideas and understands the operations of the media well. That explains why Mr Tsang has appointed him a non-official member of the Executive Council, although he failed to ask him to stay on as chief secretary.

Just days before his departure, Mr Hui, who rarely gives public interviews, was exclusively interviewed by students from Shue Yan University.

During the interview he lashed out at the opposition in the Legislative Council for crossing the fine line between the legislature and the executive, which led to widespread criticism from the media.

Interestingly, those legislators who were attacked by Mr Hui did not seem to be aware of the criticism. Other legislators said Mr Hui was forced to make the remarks on Mr Tsang's behalf.

The outcry that followed the Shue Yan interview included criticism from Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Serenade Woo Lai-wan over Mr Hui shutting out local media outlets and making use of the students to manipulate the content of the interview, against the principles of press freedom.

She also said that Leung Tin-wai, a veteran journalist and head of the journalism and communications department at Shue Yan University, should not have helped with Mr Hui's attempt to manipulate the interview.

It is not a must that senior reporters be given the chance to interview people of importance. The Shue Yan University students, though young and inexperienced, can do their job well too. There is also nothing wrong with helping your students seize valuable interview opportunities.

But these opportunities should not have been accepted at the expense of the basic principles of journalism.

In Mr Hui's interview, the filming equipment, the content editing authority as well as the channel for releasing the interview, were all under the control of the Information Services Department. The students were only props in a manipulated drama.

It is puzzling that Mr Leung, who has headed different media organisations in the past, accepted such arrangements for the interview.

More ironically, to rationalise the interview process Mr Leung took the initiative in defending the government, saying the unscrupulous reporting style of the local media has discouraged senior government officials and business magnates from giving interviews.

Editorial independence is at the top of the list in press freedom. It is simply public relations, not journalism, if one forgoes the power to edit and release interview content. By accepting such arrangements, Mr Leung has not only blemished his reputation in the media industry, he has also set a very bad example for his students.

He was not totally wrong though. Had the media organisations thought the arrangements for Mr Hui's interview were unacceptable, they could have refused to report the interview.

Mr Hui has emerged as the biggest winner in this incident. He has successfully controlled media coverage of his criticism of the opposition through the interview with the students.

The only loser is Mr Leung. He should have known the price for forgoing press freedom. But as a founding member of Next Magazine, he is strongly influenced by the magazine's market-driven and mercenary culture.

Thus, he may well go to absurd lengths to raise media exposure of Shue Yan, even if his students are reduced to being the government's mouthpiece.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a directly elected legislator