Worrying language trend in press releases

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2011, 12:00am

We admit it - we are biased. As Hong Kong's leading English-language newspaper, we have a vested interest in keeping standards of written and spoken English high. But so does Hong Kong. It is the language of business, finance, science, technology and global exchange; we cannot be anyone's global city if we are not reasonably fluent in English. In any case, it is not like we have a choice to drop English: the Basic Law stipulates that it and Chinese are our official languages. Despite this, though, barely more than one-third of the government's departments issued press releases in English last year. In any language, that is setting a bad example.

Journalists in the English-language media have long known of the lack of bilingual transparency, but just how bad was not precisely known until last week, when the government answered a lawmaker's query. Only 20 of the 56 departments made all releases available in both official languages. Of the 40,735 that were issued, 20,645 were in English - and that includes daily information items like photo captions and upcoming events. That naturally meant that a lot of information went unnoticed by the foreign media.

The city's population may be 95 per cent Chinese, but that leaves a sizeable number - 350,000 - who are not. English is the language of business and for our city's continued strength as a financial centre. All people connected to that sector, both here and elsewhere in the world, need to be well informed about the government's decisions. And if we want to become a leader in education, medical tourism, the arts and a host of other fields and a hub for science, technology and innovation, it is important that we can speak and write English fluently. It is essential that the government has in place the best possible environment for citizens to learn and develop English. Joining its ranks requires a high degree of fluency in both our official languages. So clearly the government has the capability. Now, perhaps press releases are not the most important things in the world, but it points to a troubling attitude that we do not need to engage the English-speaking world.