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Donald Tsang

Shooting from the lip

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2007, 12:00am

THE TENOR IS evident when the newsreader intones, 'Legislative Council calls for more legislation; accountants call for more accountancy' - and political appointments are 'popular with political appointees'. Spoof news site HK Copy News says it is 'just like the real news, but cheaper'.


Founded by video-production manager Daniel Clarke, the website takes pot shots at politicians and pokes fun at the government's policy gaffes.


And Clarke, 35, reckons we could do with a lot more political satire. 'There might be a political comedy troupe out there, but not that I've heard of,' he says.


The Briton has been involved in a number of creative endeavours in the 13 years he has lived in Hong Kong, from an improv-comedy troupe and life-drawing classes to Hong Kong's first - and surely only - unicycle hockey league.


But until Copy News, he didn't have much interest in local politics, partly because he, like almost all Hongkongers, doesn't get to vote for the chief executive.


'For years, I basically flipped over the Hong Kong news section of the paper,' he says. 'It's very hard to stay with it, but it is fascinating when you get into it.'


An article written by former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee for the opinion pages of the South China Morning Post spurred Clarke to create Copy News.


'She said something like, 'For Hong Kong to develop a proper democracy it's going to need political parties and it's going to need to develop a bunch of stuff',' he says. 'I thought, well, the other thing it needs to develop are proper satirists. There's got to be more people who tell the likes of Regina Ip that she's an idiot.


'She's involved in demagoguery of a sort. And, you know, free speech and all that. Of course, to have free speech is to stand up and speak freely. And that's partly how [HK Copy News] came about.'


Launched last September, the weekly news review is now in its 17th instalment. Clarke writes the script for each episode during the week and puts it together at the weekend. He does the animation at home and records the voice of the cartoon newscaster at his office. His wife, Kate Allert, a freelance voice-over artist, coaches him on the delivery.


The current edition touches on the announcement by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen that he'll be running for re-election as chief executive - a mere formality for a process with a foregone conclusion.


'It is a testament to Mr Tsang's fairness and commitment to the democratic process that he managed to restrain himself from immediately announcing victory,' the newscaster declares.


Clarke insists his beef with local politicians isn't personal. 'In terms of themes, I guess I come out for free speech, democracy ... and honesty,' he says.


Bureaucracy often takes a beating. For instance, a November episode sideswipes the government's lumbering efforts at implementing its vision for a cultural hub. 'The West Kowloon Cultural District Consultative Committee on the Core Arts and Cultural Facilities is probably the last group of people you'd want to let near any kind of creative project,' the animation newscaster says. 'Their greatest achievement on which they can all agree is their name', which Clarke abbreviates as WKCDCCCACF.


In a December episode, he unveils a board game, Consultation, in which one player representing the government can do whatever he or she pleases with a lump of 'Basic Law modelling clay' and a stack of 'easily dismantled national heritage building blocks'. One player takes the role of the government and everyone else plays the public. The public can comment on what becomes of the blocks and modelling clay, and the government can throw pieces of the clay in their faces. Play ends when all the national heritage building blocks end up in a landfill.


Food scares, pregnant mainlanders, Christmas and the Post have all been in Clarke's sights.


But if he can dish out criticism, he seems also to be able to take it. He receives a modest income from the service that hosts his site and, in a recent post, he told readers he had reinvested his earnings by buying two books on comedy writing.


'Does that mean it will start getting funny?' one wag asked.


'Even the heckling will reach minimum standards eventually,' Clarke shot back.


Ryanne Yeung Lai-hiu is a weekly viewer who subscribes to the RSS feed of Copy News.


'It's a gem, very entertaining,' she says. 'I especially appreciate its light-hearted humour and the funny look and voice of the news reporter. It also shows that expats really care about what's happening in the local community, so much that they'd spend time to put together a show every week.'


Clarke isn't sure how many hits the site gets each week, but says he receives a small fee for every viewer who watches a whole episode - currently just over 100 people a week.


'Sometimes I look at that and think it's a pretty small number when Bus Uncle can get 30 gazillion hits in a day,' he says. 'But if you think of [the site] as being like a comedy club, 100 people every week is a pretty good turnout.


'[News satire] is more and more of a phenomenon in the US and in Britain, where shows like The Daily Show is where people want to get their news from,' he says. 'It's well-informed and presented with a bit more character in a way that people actually want to listen to.'


Although comedy is what drives Clarke he says that he enjoys having a soapbox.


'It feels good to have a platform where I can say something. I don't know how much I really want to stand up and say, 'Yeah, I want to get people informed', but I'd be happy if that happened.'


HK Copy News can be found at http://hkcopynews.blogspot.com