Freed reporter upholds values of profession

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2008, 12:00am

It was no doubt coincidental, but the fact that face-the-media sessions were held separately by journalist Ching Cheong and disgraced actor-singer Edison Chen Koon-hei at almost the same time on Thursday could not be more ironic.

The appalling treatment by certain Chinese-language newspapers and weeklies of the sex-photo scandal has laid bare their lack of social responsibility and restraint, and shown their indifference to the adverse impact the coverage has had on society.

Issues such as privacy, distribution and control of indecent materials on the internet have been buried by sensationalist press.

Obsessed with the notion of 'giving people what they want', some newspapers have denigrated the role of the media to mere content provider for people stricken by curiosity with the private lives of celebrities.

In sharp contrast, Ching, who was freed from a Guangzhou prison after being convicted of spying for Taiwan, provided a timely example of a professional journalist with a sense of purpose, mission and heart.

Speaking in public for the first time after being freed, the 58-year-old journalist showed no signs of self-doubt about his commitment to journalism and sense of mission to contribute to the development of Hong Kong and the mainland. This despite the trauma suffered during three years spent in mainland jails on spying charges.

Recalling his detention in late August 2005, Ching revealed he had considered ending it all 'when the door of the cell was shut with a loud bang'.

'I was so depressed that I doubted every single value that I had treasured in my life, like patriotism, honesty and poise. These values I upheld seemed to have betrayed me.'

Philosophical and religious writings such as the Bible and Buddhist classics helped to comfort his soul.

Perhaps more importantly, the values he held dear in his heart gave him the vigour and hope he needed to survive the darkest days of his life.

There is no denying the fact that after being freed on parole from his original five-year term, he had a genuine reason to shy away from difficult questions from the media about details of his case.

But despite the deep physical and mental pain he endured, he uttered not a harsh or hostile word towards mainland authorities for denying him justice and bringing such a predicament to him and his family.

Circumstances allowing, Ching is hoping to return to the front line of news reporting on the mainland.

Without going into details of his case, he has admitted in media interviews having mixed up the role of journalist and political mediator on occasions when he saw there was a danger of military conflict across the Taiwan Strait. Undeterred by his ordeal, Ching said he would continue to try to do his utmost to resolve any conflict if it arose in the future.

Cynics may ridicule Ching's remarks as silly and naive in view of the complexities of cross-strait politics, and the vulnerabilities of journalists working on the mainland to the arbitrariness and injustice of its system. This is despite the phenomenal developments on the mainland in the past 30 years and the unique role of Hong Kong in this modernisation under the 'one country, two systems' policy.

Put bluntly, the road of journalists who aspire to help the mainland modernise through their work is still laden with landmines.

Ching said he boosted his spirits while in jail by bearing in mind the words of a poem by Lin Zexu, a noted patriotic official of the Qing dynasty: 'I will do whatever it takes to serve my country, even at the cost of my own life, regardless of fortune and misfortune to myself.'

This may sound lofty, if not unrealistic, to some people. As certain media have increasingly given in to market forces, there is still hope that Ching and some other journalists have not compromised their values and settled for a lesser role in society.