Hong Kong’s education minister needs to man up ... and maybe get a moustache

Yonden Lhatoo says Eddie Ng is responsible for the most serious infringement of press freedom in recent years because of his own insecurity

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 December, 2015, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

Poor Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Will someone please give Hong Kong’s education minister a hug? Looks like he really needs it.

In his latest faux pas, hapless Ng complained about feeling “threatened” and “unsafe” when he was being stalked paparazzi-style – in broad daylight, in full public view, in the safest city in the world – by two reporters from a local Chinese newspaper.

So instead of dialling 999 or alerting the nearest beat cop, he pulled rank as a policy secretary to get the Security Bureau directly involved in this farce.

To cut a long, ridiculous story short, Ng had the two detained and questioned for over an hour by police, even after they had identified themselves with their press cards. And, in the process, he’s stirred up a new hornet’s nest about privilege and press freedom.

The newspaper in question said its reporters had been tailing the education chief day and night since December 18, as he was the official in the hot seat handling – or mishandling – the controversy over excessive drilling of students under the unpopular Territory-wide System Assessment.

Ng has developed something of a reputation for timidity. He was recently pilloried for avoiding a public hearing on the issue so he wouldn’t have to face the wrath of parents and teachers in front of the media cameras.

Hounding government officials over controversies they’re involved in is business as usual for some of Hong Kong’s more aggressive newspapers. They do it all the time.

Ask former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. He’s been mercilessly stalked day and night for several years now by reporters from one particular Chinese-language paper with an axe to grind. But even with his diminutive stature and not-so-macho bow tie, Tsang is apparently more gutsy than Ng. He’s taken it in his stride.

Our easily intimidated education minister, on the other hand, has inadvertently ended up orchestrating the most serious infringement of Hong Kong’s press freedom in recent years.

Reporters being detained for following a government official around for a story? Whatever next?

The other outrageous attempt to muzzle the press came courtesy of the University of Hong Kong, which persuaded a High Court judge to impose an interim blanket ban on media reporting of its council meetings, as too much dirty laundry was being aired in public.

I hear a lot of sanctimonious talk these days about growing “editorial interference” and “self-censorship” in the Hong Kong media.

Rather than blaming local journalists who, I have to say, are by and large a spirited bunch who bristle at any attempt – imagined or real – to silence them, why not condemn these much more in-your-face examples of interference in the work of the media?

As for Ng, instead of being paranoid about non-existent ninjas out to get him, he may want to divert his energy to tackle more pressing matters, such as why he’s consistently at the bottom of the list every time ministers are ranked for their popularity.

Didn’t he boast in public recently that he can read 30 books a month and more than 10 books over a 10-hour flight? Since there’s a wealth of self-help literature out there on how to handle media relations, it should take “Speedy” Eddie no time at all to bring himself up to speed on that.

He can also take a page out of martial-arts-loving Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s book to learn self defence. The reading part should take him just a few seconds, and while he’s in training, perhaps he can grow a mighty moustache like Tsang.

That should keep the pesky paparazzi at bay.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post