Lai's donations are sign of freedom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


There is a nasty whiff of propaganda over some of the more breathless coverage of the charitable largesse of media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. That an avowed democrat and Catholic billionaire has shelled out some HK$60 million over the past five years or so to a range of pan-democrat parties and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun is certainly interesting. But it is not quite a scandal.

Amid the politically motivated confected outrage, a sense of perspective is needed. Just as Lai has not broken any laws, he has done nothing wrong.

Hong Kong has been built on the tradition of its lightly taxed wealthy generously supporting all manner of causes they hold dear. Some of these causes are outwardly philanthropic and/or heavily promoted. Others are more political and discreet. That is their choice under the law - which in Hong Kong still provides for freedom of religious and political belief and expression.

There is also nothing unusual about prominent clerics of different faiths in Hong Kong and other free cities tapping the great and the good for funding. In Hong Kong, a beachhead of religious freedom in a still-restricted nation, that inevitably goes beyond the need to fix the cathedral roof.

It is worth remembering that many tycoons and senior bureaucrats here - devout Catholic Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen among them - are deeply religious and probably give generously to the collection plate.

Lai, chairman of Next Media, runs a pugnacious operation that has made many enemies. He has broad shoulders and will undoubtedly ride out this storm. But the real targets of the propaganda salvos are the causes - and freedoms - he represents.