My Take

End the charade: University of Hong Kong gag order serves no purpose

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 1:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 1:33am

To make a mistake is only human, said Cicero, but to persist in it is idiotic.

I am sure somewhere on the august campus of the University of Hong Kong, the great Roman orator is still being taught, perhaps even in the original Latin. Those who now run the university council should take a lesson. They are persisting in court to extend an interim injunction that the council sought to prevent details of its meetings being revealed to the public.

But what's the point of applying a gag order when the public pretty much knows everything about the crucial meeting of the governing council where members voted against the appointment of law don and pro-democracy supporter Johannes Chan Man-mun to a top post? Isn't it time for the university to stop?

While the lawyers are still bickering before a High Court judge, another recording - the fourth leak so far- of the key closed-door meeting in September was uploaded to Taiwanese online forum PTT. The existing gag only covers Hong Kong.

The latest had HKU chief Peter Mathieson standing by Chan while council member Professor Lo Chung-mau criticised Chan as an academic lightweight. Well, we know all this already. But some people may still find it entertaining to listen to the actual voices.

It was Dr Leong Che-hung, the hapless former chairman of the council who applied for the initial gag order on his own authority. But his term has expired, and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has yet to appoint a replacement.

Council members can therefore reasonably blame Leong for the public relations fiasco and halt the court proceedings, which have achieved nothing and in fact have been counterproductive in exposing the governance crisis at the city's oldest university.

The argument that calling off the gag order would encourage future council members not to respect their confidentiality pledge doesn't hold water. People feel the need to leak or become a whistleblower because there is a controversy brewing and those dealing with it are perceived not to be addressing it adequately or fairly.

Such leaks are the effect, not the cause, of a crisis. There is no point trying to gag the messenger when the horse has already bolted.