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Reporters grill US President Joe Biden upon his return from Camp David, Maryland, to the White House in Washington on March 21. Photo: AFP

Letters | US media is free to expose national scandals. Can Chinese media do this?

  • Readers write about the hallmark of a free press, how the attitude to the English language has changed in Hong Kong, and why students don’t do more to improve their English skills

Some Chinese internet users argue that there is no difference between Chinese media and the media in democratic countries because they all serve a political purpose. They give examples to show CNN supporting the Democrats and Fox News defending the Republicans. So, they say, it is unfair to be hostile towards Chinese media.

I would give this statement some credit ­– it’s really hard for media outlets to be completely neutral, whether private or state-owned.

But The New York Times offers a perfect illustration of the difference. The newspaper has just revealed that 2019 US army air strikes in Syria aimed at members of Islamic State had also killed up to 64 women and children. It’s something the US army had tried to conceal as it would damage America’s reputation. Yet the paper published the story.
Narrowly speaking, the difference between Chinese media and the free press elsewhere is how much the truth is respected when it comes to human rights and humanitarian issues, and also how much reporting freedom there is when it comes to news that could affect the nation’s reputation. Different media groups may have their own stance and preferences, but can they be just when it comes to exposing secrets like this?
If there are no secrets to keep, then the government should not be afraid of the media or feel the need to try to control it. The Hong Kong immigration department recently refused to renew a work visa for The Economist reporter Sue-Lin Wong without giving any explanation. One wonders what the Hong Kong government is afraid of.

Chloe Hui, Yuen Long

English no longer only route to fairy-tale endings

Your correspondent’s observation in “Our children will only learn English properly if it’s taught differently” ( November 7) that Hong Kong students have lost the motivation to learn English is strikingly true. This is a vivid example of how Hong Kong has changed since the colonial era, when fluency in English led to many fairy-tale endings. It was a key to success, a connection to the modern world.

But after the handover in 1997, Hongkongers found there were more routes to success than English proficiency. The growing importance of Mandarin also led to the decline of interest in English.

It was like a perennially shut window suddenly opening. A butcher could find his fairy-tale ending by opening a hotpot shop to host his beloved countrymen from the mainland and earning a handsome profit.

It’s worthwhile for students to consider the value of being trilingual.

Edmond Pang, Fanling

Why students don’t do more to improve their English

I am writing in response to the letter, “Raising English standards among Hong Kong students worth the struggle” ( November 14). I agree with the writer’s opinion of the cause of low English standards among Hong Kong students.

He noted that the performance of candidates in the Diploma of Secondary Education exam is worrying but not surprising.

Due to the exam-oriented culture in Hong Kong, most lessons in schools and tutoring centres focus on getting good DSE grades. Teachers and tutors provide standardised structures, sentence patterns and useful phases for students to copy and use in their writing. They rarely encourage creative writing or ask students to gain knowledge that is beyond the scope of the syllabus but beneficial to learning the language. That’s why many students use formulaic expressions and make pronunciation mistakes during tests.

The writer suggested that learners create their own English environment by listening to English-language radio channels and watching English-language films. This is a legitimate suggestion. But it fails to consider the overwhelming workload and extensive extracurricular activities students have. With little leisure time, most of us would rather do what we like than take further steps to improve our English skills.

Studying should not be about getting grades. The government and schools should work together to change this culture and develop more tools to help students improve their English.

Yolly Lau, Tsuen Wan