Uninspired creation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 February, 2009, 12:00am

After an 'honourable mention' in the chief executive's three successive policy addresses and one motion debate in the Legislative Council, the government finally put a proposal to Legco to create a new office, CreateHK, in the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to spearhead the development of creative industries. This has been a long time coming, and the government's game plan smacks of a makeshift effort to appease lawmakers and the industry lobby.

The bureau cannot be faulted for trying, but the tentative proposal is as void of insight as the rest of the government is drained of imagination and creative energies. The proposal lacks intellectual rigour and content in the mapping of creative industries. After fumbling for three years to come up with a comprehensive statement on what it means by creative industries, and how the government plans to promote their development, at long last the bureau decided to close the gap by culling a definition from British government reports.

But the British extract on its own, without a full discussion of the structural characteristics and the various classification models, fails to drive home the fact that the economic value of creative industries derives from the creativity and cultural value embedded in the product, so that the stronger the creativity or cultural content, the higher the value. That is why it would be futile to define the scope of creative industries by enumerating the sectors: the garment industry morphs into high fashion, a creative industry, when an item is infused with sufficient creativity value to become a fashion statement.

As many governments have rightly grasped, the relationship between culture and creative industries is so close that it would be pointless to promote creative industries without developing a cultural policy, and an understanding of one's heritage, values and identity. Creative products are about self-expression, and there cannot be truly creative self-expression without a clear sense of who we are and what we stand for. From Australia to Britain and the mainland cities of Suzhou and Foshan, promoters of creative industries have prided themselves on their strong cultural heritage and commitment to expression of their uniqueness and individuality.

Against this background, it is disappointing that the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau would talk about the promotion of creative industries as though that could be divorced from the promotion of culture.

The fact that the new office, CreateHK, is to be placed under a part of the bureau, without any linkages to the part of the government responsible for the West Kowloon Cultural Development or oversight on the project, is, as some legislators commented, mind-boggling and bewildering.

The bureaucratic reason for this is not hard to surmise. The office will be headed by a mid-ranking official; it would be out of order for this person to have oversight on the cultural project presided over by the chief secretary. But then the question arises: what value is the West Kowloon hub without a comprehensive policy focused on stimulating cultural and creative activities?

The proposed organisational set-up betrays the fact that CreateHK is no more than a camouflage, and embodies no real vision or high-level commitment. The reasons are understandable: creative industries are uncharted territory to bureaucrats. Governments that are really serious about developing creative industries have set up dedicated ministries, not offices.

Our only hope lies in the fact that Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan got two points right. The proposed new outfit is only the first step, she conceded. Further, she was smart enough to recognise that another civil servant, without any background, expertise or penchant for creative industries, would be the least appropriate person to launch the new enterprise. So two cheers for Mrs Lau, and a big question mark for the government.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chairwoman of the Savantas Policy Institute