Vincent Wong Wing: 'I couldn't get stuck to a room'

Former radio host Vincent Wong Wing is following an unbeaten path in journalism after a long and colourful career

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 5:20am

Vincent Wong Wing is not your usual kind of journalist, a fact reflected in the novel approach he recently began taking to the job.

Best known as a former Commercial Radio phone-in programme host, Wong nowadays travels around the city in a truck-turned-studio, hoping to use the vehicle as a base for the practice of what he calls "solution journalism", a response to the critical and negative nature of much of the profession.

"When I was in radio it was more about criticising the government. I entered into a state of negativity," said Wong, who once headed station FM881, one of the city's favourite channels for news and public affairs.

"Now I'm more concerned with unveiling problems not yet identified by society."

One idea he works on is picking up forgotten news stories, or "news tails", as he calls them.

One such example is an investigation he conducted into the whereabouts of tonnes of plastic pellets washed up onto coastlines around the city by Typhoon Kai-Tak a year ago.

Wong says he was inspired by the work of David Bornstein, a New York Times writer, who wrote: "Journalism is a feedback mechanism to help society self-correct. People need to know what they can do - and how. That [means] regularly presenting people with innovative ideas and realistic pathways and possibilities that remain outside their view frame."

In this regard Wong aims high. In the pursuit of his "solution journalism", Wong, just three months after the launch of his social enterprise group Solution-On-Wheels, is eyeing a solution to perhaps the biggest question currently left unanswered for Hongkongers: the one of universal suffrage, on which he has put together a proposal for the 2017 chief executive election.

Given Wong's past, it is unsurprising he would turn his hand to such endeavours.

Shortly after the handover and his graduation from a university in Canada, Wong, using his real name Pak-hong, joined the government as an administrative officer, a position widely regarded as an entry ticket to an influential career as an official.

But he walked out just two years later amid doubts over the government's methods of policy formulation.

"When I was in charge of elderly care, I had to come up with policies to improve elderly homes - without a chance of even visiting them. As a twenty-something, I couldn't help asking myself when I worked there: 'Is that the way of formulating policy?'"

His departure turned out to be anything but lamentable. Enrolling in an MBA course at the University of Cambridge, Wong would go on to win a Barclay's Prize for best MBA dissertation with his thesis entitled "Creative Thinking Patterns of Business Professionals".

His next move into a global communications firm brought more surprises. When tasked with conducting policy research for the firm into Commercial Radio in 2006, he was headhunted by the client, which is how he ended up at the station. He soon became a well-known radio host.

A year later he became the radio station's head, a prestigious position many treat as warranting a lifetime tenure, but Wong planned to stay only five years to inject new elements into the station. One such new element, he says, was running continuous series of news packages, something he calls a success.

He stayed for six years, during which time he came under fire for allowing pro-Beijing party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong to sponsor a programme that its members hosted.

It is also alleged Wong made a government information officer cry after criticising her for the removal of a 60-year-old tree by the Lands Department. He described the officer on air as "shameless, untrustworthy, cheap and nasty". Although Wong later apologised, the Broadcasting Authority ruled that his words had breached radio rules.

Towards the end of his broadcasting career he made another eyebrow-raising move to attend an interview for an undersecretary position in Leung Chun-ying's cabinet before Leung became chief executive last year. Wong said he had been "invited" to the interview, but it did not lead to a position being offered.

Wong says his past work experience and departures from those positions have proved he is not a person who works things out from behind a desk, be it policy making or news commentary.

"I couldn't get stuck to a room. The world is too complicated for one to observe it from a distance," he says. "You won't know if it's the true picture."

But he admits that roaming around the city doesn't make problems any less complicated - especially when it comes to the universal suffrage plan he has been working on.

University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting is planning civil disobedience movement Occupy Central for next summer to force Beijing to grant full and genuine universal suffrage, but Wong sees no prospect of it being a success.

"There is no logical proof that Occupy Central, as a belief and a means, can achieve the end of universal suffrage," Wong said, calling it a sentimental approach.

In response, he has put forward what he calls a logical approach.

Earlier this month his group came up with a proposal that the nominating committee for the city's top job - comprising 1,200 members in last year's race - should be solely made up of the 400-plus district councillors.

Whether his plan will garner support remains unclear, as does the next move of this unpredictable man.


Vincent Wong Wing

1996 Graduated in economics,University of Toronto
2002 Gained MBA, University of Cambridge

1997 Joined advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather
1998 Joined the government as administrative officer
2000 Left government service
2007 Joined Commercial Radio as director of strategic planning, later became head of Station 881
2012 Left Commercial Radio
2013 Founded Solution-On-Wheels