Typhoon trauma: time to stop forcing young TV reporters to provide an outdated service

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

The typhoon season is upon us earlier than usual, and it’s that time of the year again when you switch on your TVs to watch the local television reporters out in the streets doing live broadcasts. Let’s face it: they’re providing more amusement than useful information to viewers, who get a certain voyeuristic or even sadistic pleasure out of watching them suffer on meaningless manoeuvres while everyone else is either safe and cosy at home or out in the streets themselves, enjoying a day off thanks to a number eight typhoon warning signal.

For decades, local TV stations have taken it upon themselves to provide regular storm updates throughout the duration of a number eight signal, which is often overnight. They perform this self-imposed duty so religiously that many in the business assume it must be a licensing requirement. It’s definitely not. So why would our constantly cost-cutting broadcasters insist on carrying this cross and waste their overworked, shrinking news crews on a public service that no one really needs?

The original reasoning behind this voluntary service made sense. Typhoons can often be dangerous and sometimes devastating, as Hong Kong has experienced in the past. Hence the need for the public to be kept informed at all times when the number eight signal is in force. The original intent of our TV station bosses made sense decades ago, when families huddled together in front of their television screens to keep up to date.

It doesn’t work like that any more. The men in suits need to realise that this is the age of the internet, smartphones and social media. Any information you need about a storm, before you venture out, is readily available at the swipe of a finger on a personal screen. The Hong Kong Observatory itself maintains a pretty informative website. You can argue, for argument’s sake, that not everyone has a smartphone, but you know what I mean. Gone are the days when you were at the mercy of your television or radio set to stay in the loop.

So why the compunction to make our frontline reporters and camera crews jump through hoops needlessly? Have you watched a typhoon update on TVB, ATV, Cable TV or Now TV recently? It’s mostly young reporters stumbling and stuttering through scripted lines they struggle to recite live in front of the camera. They offer information you could obtain by just looking out of the window. “It’s raining, it’s not raining, it’s windy, it’s not windy, nothing really is happening out here, back to you in the studio.”

All you really need to know when the number eight signal is up is this: “Stay home unless you absolutely have to go out because of work.”

But just take a look at Lan Kwai Fong when Hong Kong is being “threatened” by a big storm. Or go across to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront to watch “typhoon tourists” – mostly Hongkongers taking selfies while dancing in the wind and rain. And it’s all against the backdrop of live news broadcasts by young reporters in helmets and full protective gear with nothing to report, really. The whole set-up is quite silly when there’s a number eight signal in force, but the sun is out and everyone is enjoying a day off from work.

Seriously, how many people are staying up at 4am to watch this circus? For demanding viewers who insist on receiving typhoon eight information when they switch on their TVs at any time of the day or night, why not just run a ticker at the bottom of the screen instead of relying on visibly exhausted, bleary-eyed news crews on 15-hour shifts to tell them what’s happening outside their windows?

I don’t expect government officials to do anything more than shrug their shoulders over this, but perhaps our television station bosses could have a heart instead of trying to score brownie points with such displays of dedication at the expense of their employees.

But then again, they’re not the ones out there getting soaked in the rain, or looking like they’re in the middle of a blizzard at the South Pole while the tropical sun is shining and everyone else is throwing caution to the wind. Why would they bother.