Squabbling over TV licences, Manila tragedy won't improve livelihoods

Michael Chugani says the rows over TV licences and the Manila hostage tragedy divert attention from important livelihood concerns

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 8:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:51am

Here's what I think: maybe China should never have taken Hong Kong back. We would not have had the scandal-ridden leaderships of Leung Chun-ying, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Tung Chee-hwa. Who knows, Chris Patten might still be governor. By now, he would be a seasoned dodger of bananas flung at him in the Legislative Council. But Patten would have no qualms about allowing free elections. He would win hands down.

OK, I'm being flippant. But it's been 16 years since the handover and look at what China got lumped with: a restive population that cares more about TV licences and making the Philippines kowtow despite its recent typhoon tragedy than unaffordable housing, air pollution and rising poverty in a super-rich city. I bet if opposition politicians called for a mass protest against the wealth gap, the turnout wouldn't even be a fraction of the 80,000 who marched against the government's refusal to give Ricky Wong Wai-kay a licence.

Has our society lost all sense of what its priorities should be? You bet. We can test this by asking the question the late Ronald Reagan asked Americans when he ran against president Jimmy Carter: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

Ask yourself: if, at the end of Leung's term, homes remain unaffordable, many still live in subdivided flats, there are still 1.3 million poor people, and the air is filthy, but we have five instead of four free-to-air TV stations and a deep kowtow from President Benigno Aquino - are you better off?

That's what I mean by losing our sense of priorities when the people, politicians and the media focus more on TV licences than things that actually improve our lives.

Those who oppose the TV decision say they fear that the government wants to curb values such as free speech and entrepreneurship. But can anyone honestly say free speech and entrepreneurship have deteriorated in the month since Wong was denied a licence?

If anything, free speech has increased, with everyone having a go at the government. Even executive councillors have broken the collective responsibility rule by speaking their minds. And I have seen at least two restaurants go bust and taken over by newcomers in my neighbourhood since the licence decision. That's entrepreneurship for you.

Likewise, those demanding an Aquino kowtow insist it's not about revenge but retribution for the bungled rescue that left eight Hongkongers dead. The Philippines is a poor country. That's why its police force is klutz-class. Is it right to punish poverty no matter how tragic the eight deaths?

Blame the politicians and the media for where we are today. They have failed in their roles to lead and accurately inform society. Political self-interest has driven their agendas. And blame our inept government. Its explanation for its TV decision was as klutz-class as the Manila police handling of the bus hijack. I've always thought Hongkongers were a smart bunch. It's surprising how easily they fell into the frenzy whipped up by politicians and the media over the Manila tragedy and TV licences.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com