Hong Kong now has its own ‘Five O’Clock Follies’ media cabaret as press briefings stretch public credulity beyond breaking point
- During the Vietnam war, regular press conferences were held at the roof terrace bar in Saigon’s Rex Hotel when a breakdown of the day’s hostilities, casualties and ‘successes’ were given
- Richard Pyle, then the Associated Press bureau chief, described it as “the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia’s theatre of the absurd”
Richard Pyle, the Associated Press bureau chief, memorably described the proceedings as “the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia’s theatre of the absurd”. Press pack feeding frenzies anywhere, as numerous foreign correspondents’ memoirs make plain, relied as heavily on interviewing each other for “background” as on quotes from key figures. It was ever thus, but in Vietnam, the scale of official dissembling was remarkable.
People who had not been anywhere near the action vividly described eyewitness accounts related by sweaty, dirt-stained journalists and news cameramen returning from the field. Yawning chasms loomed between the public relations rendition of events and the full Technicolor accounts of those who had been at the scene. Corrosive cynicism became inevitable, and only worsened as the intractable Vietnam conflict bogged down. So it is in Hong Kong, half a century later.
And this, too, is hardly surprising. Hong Kong remains an integral sovereign territory of an authoritarian one-party state tightly run along old-fashioned Leninist lines. In that world view, all social-order problems that evolve on their watch ultimately flow from materialism – that anything else might provide the powder keg’s contents, fuses and matches does not compute – and thus materialistic solutions are the only ones possible. Economic sweeteners, mainland study programmes, Greater Bay Area/Belt-And-Road concessions – all are plaintively offered to Hong Kong’s tantrum-prone public, and just as rapidly thrown back in their faces.