Equal Opportunities Commission

Hate messages have no place in world-class city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am

Discrimination watchdog chief Lam Woon-kwong has defined his role as defender and advocate of human rights and equal opportunities. The government's HK$6,000 handout to permanent residents has, inadvertently, opened a new case file for him that exposes social tensions over new mainland migrants.

Migrants excluded from the handouts have protested that they are being discriminated against. It is not this, however, that has attracted the immediate attention of the Equal Opportunities Commission, of which Lam is the chairman. It is vilification of migrants on a Facebook page set up for discussion of their complaints. They have been described as 'locusts' eating into job opportunities and social welfare, accused of expecting 'everything' and of not having done anything to earn it, and told to go away if they are not satisfied.

After more than 80,000 visits in a week by internet users, the page was closed following a complaint about 'hate' messages, only to be replaced by another that attracted nearly 13,000 users in a day.

The EOC is responsible for implementing the race, sex and disability discrimination ordinances. Where foreigners are vilified, the perception of race bias is self-evident. That is not so clear with mainland migrants, even if such comments incite prejudice against members of the community with a common background and can lead to discrimination in other areas, such as employment.

What is not in question is that such intolerance is foreign to Hong Kong's way of life and abuses the precious right of freedom of speech. Our vibrant, multicultural society is founded on principles of tolerance and fairness and thrives on diversity.

The EOC has acted decisively in the past over hate messages posted online against South Asians. It is right to express concern at this latest outbreak and to keep a close watch on it, including how the government implements the handout. Equal opportunity is a hallmark of a world-class city, or the international finance centre this city aspires to be. Our reputation for it must be safeguarded.