Cathay Pacific

Sensationalism fans the flames of popular anger

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 August, 2010, 12:00am

The majority of the local news media often engages in sensational reporting to attract readers and there is a fast-growing market for this type of journalism. It's therefore not difficult to understand why news concerning the growing wealth gap and hatred of the rich is highly popular. This attitude also reflects the rise of social conflict and reminds us that our social problems are becoming serious and need to be addressed urgently.

The latest news about Lam Shiu-kum, the disgraced dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong who was jailed last year for 25 months for siphoning off HK$3.8 million of research donations, is a case in point. Under the pre-release employment scheme for prisoners, Lam has been transferred from prison to a halfway house after serving less than a year. The scheme allows him to work outside the prison during the day.

Lam was the personal doctor to former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and, because of his elite status, many media reports have cried foul over the so-called early release. Some media even put Lam under 24-hour surveillance as part of their campaign to expose the truth.

The crux of the matter is whether Lam qualifies for the scheme. The programme allows eligible prisoners to serve part of their sentences in an open environment under the supervision of prison officers to facilitate their reintegration into society. To qualify, prisoners need to demonstrate good behaviour.

In other words, if the media suspects it's a case of favouritism, it must prove that Lam does not have a clean disciplinary record or has failed the vetting criteria.

Meanwhile, at the centre of another case of sensational reporting is a recent row between an executive of the Monetary Authority and a member of Cathay Pacific Airways ground crew. The executive, who missed his flight to Kuala Lumpur, reportedly used abusive language and slapped the Cathay employee on the hand during an argument. The airline subsequently upgraded the executive to business class on the next available flight.

The Cathay employee reported the case to the police and the matter is now under investigation. Most media reports focused on allegations of privileged treatment. In fact, the 'executive' was just a middle-ranking employee. If it had been the authority's chief executive, Norman Chan Tak-lam, it would have been a different story.

If the Cathay employee wants to seek redress, he should file a complaint with the management through the staff union.

All this shows that many news reports have given way to sensationalism. It's too early to pass judgment on whether the airline was wrong in acting the way it did. But, the media should always remain impartial and not fan the flames of conflict.

Last week, it was also reported that an American air steward had made a dramatic exit using the emergency chute after a row with a passenger. A Facebook page has been created to support him, regardless of what's right or wrong.

To understand the situation better, maybe we should look at the latest global youth unemployment rate, which is at a record high. According to the UN International Labour Organisation, of the world's 620 million economically active youngsters aged between 15 and 24, over 80 million were unemployed at the end of last year.

Such global trends are similar to those in Hong Kong, which is indicative of the fact that the so-called post-1980s and post-1990s generations are a 'lost generation'. Unable to earn a decent living, they have lost all hope and are only motivated by anger. To govern effectively in the long term, the administration will have to learn how to deal with their growing rage and hatred of authority.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.