Jake's View

Journalists out of line with Aquino

Press body should back off over ban at Apec meeting for shouting questions at Philippine president as if he were the family house boy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 2:12am

But the Hong Kong Journalists Association was unimpressed, reiterating that it was completely unacceptable for the Apec summit organisers to bar the journalists just because they questioned Aquino.

SCMP, October 8

I saw the video and I think the journalists' association should cool off on this one. Whether or not the Apec people over-reacted in response, the reporters who shouted "questions" at Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Sunday at the Apec meeting in Bali were out of line.

The video gave the distinct impression that they were deliberately baiting Aquino, particularly one man who shouted, "So you're ignoring the Hong Kong people, right?" It was the kind of comment you would expect on an American trash television show where everyone is rude, the host most of all.

It also shows up from time to time in media scrums here at home and the fact that the association did not seem to think it unusual is good evidence of how extensive press freedom really is in this town.

But is not the sort of thing to which journalism in Hong Kong should sink at international meetings.

Let association save its ire for officials who jail journalists … and who black out news

The rudeness stands out in this case because it was not so much directed at Aquino as at the elected president of a country of 100 million people, who was appearing in his official capacity. It is the office that matters here, more than the man, and the office deserves a measure of respect.

I have in mind US president Harry Truman's recollection of ticking off general Douglas MacArthur for deliberately coming late to a meeting: "I said, 'Now you look here … I don't give a good [profanity] what you do or think about Harry Truman but don't you ever again keep your commander-in-chief waiting. Is that clear?'"

The point is a particularly telling one in this case because many Filipinos suspect Hong Kong people of racism towards them. Whether this is a valid suspicion I shall leave others to debate but it certainly doesn't help matters to have representatives of the Hong Kong media address the president of the Philippines as if he were the family house boy.

This is offensive to the entire population of the Philippines. In these circumstances, Hong Kong people would do best to be even more circumspect than they ordinarily are about what they say. Let's not fan this flame.

To put it in further perspective, try to imagine what would have happened if these reporters had addressed the president of China in the same manner. We would all have been shrivelled up in the rage that would have come blasting out of Beijing.

I accept that many people are still unhappy with the official Philippine response to the murders in 2010 of eight Hong Kong people on that tourist bus in Manila. It was a horrible affair and perhaps the Philippine government could have done more to say "we're sorry".

Then again, we all recognise the Philippines in a general way as a land of music, laughter and charming people but also of occasional acts of extreme violence and delusion. No one ever said it is one of the world's safest places to visit and it is not entirely the fault of the Philippine government that things are so. We can as easily blame the church, Spanish conquistadors and American colonialism.

In my opinion, our previous chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, did not help matters by stirring up feelings when he would have done better to soothe them. In any case, it is time now to leave this dreadful incident behind us.

And where the journalists' association is concerned, my worry is that its credit with the public in complaints about press freedom is limited and it should be careful not to spend that credit in too profligate a manner. I do not like to see it reacting to an incident of inexcusable rudeness in Bali with an intensity of protest that it should reserve for real infractions of press freedom.

These people in Bali were out of line and properly rapped across the knuckles for it. Let the association save its ire for public officials who jail journalists for publishing unwelcome truths and who black out unfavourable news.