Enough with the gossip, just give us the real news

Our local newspapers are fixated on the trivial, without addressing the issues that really matter

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 10:33am

I have a few scores to settle with the local press. First, I hate the sight of uniformed ladies in the street giving away free papers like they are promotional leaflets of a shampoo.

For me, this signals the defeat of local high-quality - and high-cost - journalism, and it never fails to dampen my spirit.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that newspapers are quasi-public institutions with an obligation to their communities and are beholden to the public.

But for most free papers, profit is not just essential for their survival, it is the primary purpose of their existence.

That, of course, does not mean that when newspapers are sold, they can do no wrong and only good to society.

On the contrary, the best-selling newspapers usually have no qualms about acting as propaganda machines for a political party or a political creed, and often excel in taking cheap shots at the government.

But what really makes me mad about the so-called mainstream press in Hong Kong is the way it turns journalism into a farce.

A big rat terrorised the patrons of a Harbour City restaurant. A depressed cop fatally shot himself in a police station. Thieves broke into the home of television personality Liza Wang Ming-chun and made off with a safe containing cash and valuables, including her wedding ring. A bisexual person leads a miserable life because he cannot decide whether he loves women or men more.

When stuff like these make the headlines, you know there is something seriously wrong with the local newspapers.

What is so puzzling and worrying is that for all the talk about how much Hong Kong people need and deserve democracy, the role that newspapers should play in supplying the information that citizens need for democracy to work remains little discussed and largely unexamined.

The rapid decline in recent years of Hong Kong as a tolerant, open society can at least be partly attributed to the failure of its daily print media to live up to its mission to inform and enlighten its readers.

It is no exaggeration to say that Hong Kong journalism is being wasted by a fixation on the trivial, the scandalous and the pornographic, and an assumption that the reader shares this fixation.

This has left Hong Kong littered with newspapers that are increasingly useless to anyone who cares about what is happening in the world, in Hong Kong and in their own neighbourhoods. And this is exactly why the press has lost so much public respect and credibility in recent years.

For most readers, a newspaper is worthy of trust only if it displays sensitivity to its obligation to keep its readers informed without fear or prejudice.

People may love gossip and scandals; a few of them may have an insatiable appetite for the smallest triviality at the houses of the rich and famous. But when they read a newspaper they buy, they want to be taken seriously as readers. And this is why so many people I know have stopped reading newspapers in Hong Kong.