The Gap Between the Media and Social Activists

Tse Kwun-tung - a member of the Anti-Express Rail Link Alliance
(Translated by King Cheng)

Discussion with Media:
It is sad that the media believes the Anti-Express Rail Link groups are dissatisfied with the media's performance as a result of the scarcity of reports on the issue.

Media's Apathy is Unreasonable
As I see it, in the period before the mid-2009, the media rarely mentioned even basic information about the express rail link, which is the most expensive infrastructural project with great impact in society, since the return of the territory to the motherland. If this big issue is not worth mentioning in the media, then what news is worthy of being treated as headline news?

Last August, I attended two public hearings held by the government at Yuen Long Theatre. The government proposal was criticized vehemently and the officials were unable to even provide basic information and figures, such as the total building costs. They were not able to give a convincing explanation for why the authority found Choi Yuen Tsuen the only suitable place to build the train depot. I am just a resident in Sham Shui Po, yet I have rightly performed my duties as a citizen to gain knowledge about this big project. It is disappointing to see that the media has been so lazy and did not bother to send their reporters out there to learn about this project.

It was not until November 2009 to January 2010, about one month before the Legco Finance Committee allocated funds, that the media finally started to have more prominent reports on this project. Despite the highly controversial nature of the project, it was a pity that some of the media tended to distort the facts and stressed that there had already been lengthy discussions and that the project had to begin as soon as possible. These media were very wrong, because, serious public discussions began only two months earlier. Moreover, the government had never had any serious discussions with the Public Professionals Alliance and those members of the public who were greatly concerned about the project.

Media Detached from the Public
The Anti-Express Rail Link Movement is a major social development in recent years. However, the size of media coverage of large public gatherings and discussions does not reflect the level of public concern over the issue. Is it because the media have become detached from public opinions and have lost sensitivity about current affairs?

When reporting large public gatherings, the media simply attribute them to the "Post-80s Phenomenon", directly or indirectly linking the movement with the livelihood difficulties facing the Post-80s Generation. While I do not rule out that may be one of the causal relations, it is downright laziness on the part of the media to generalize it as such, pulling itself further away from public opinion.

Since a major point of argument is why Choi Yuen Village is the only suitable place to build the depot, the media should get a better understanding of the issue in question. The fact is that more than a few media chiefs had been invited by the government to enjoy a ride on the Wuhan-Guangzhou Express Rail Link. If they were willing to spend two days on this ride, why were they not willing to spend one afternoon to visit Choi Yuen Village? Why is it that the 140-acre Sek Kong military camp, the open-air parking lot for container trucks or the open-air garage for discarded vehicles, are untouched? These are in the vicinity of the village. What the hell kind of conservation and care of people's needs are they talking about? Will the media continue to turn a blind eye to what members of the Anti-Express Rail Link groups see and detach from the public?

As a member of the Alliance, I have no intention to offend the media. Yet, it will not be to the benefit of anybody, should the problems not be addressed.

Discussion with the Activists:
Complaints do not solve problems. I do not agree with some social activists that the media support the project because they have ganged up with the Central Government or the Hong Kong Government. I do believe that media professionals are righteous and have justice in mind.

We, members of the Alliance, should have better communications with the media and let them have a full picture of the issues and hope one day they will change their attitude.

In this respect, I have written to Ming Pao and discussed with them about their biased views. My writing was also carried by the Inmedia Hong Kong. The reasons for my communicating with Ming Pao are that I am a regular reader of the paper and I trust that it is a paper with social concern, and more importantly, they are willing to give me a reply.

Communication is the Best Way
It is an effective strategy for social activists. The Alliance has tried many times to meet with Secretary for Transport & Housing, Ms. Eva Cheng, but without success. Perhaps it is better for us to meet the media instead. With the media and public opinion on our side, maybe we will be able to pressure the government to respond to us and revise their plan. Under an undemocratic system, we only have two forces: the people and the media.

It would be good for social activists to have their own media. The Inmedia Hong Kong is the first step to take. However, its limited readership and influence is no comparison to the main stream media. How to attract public attention is a topic for social activists.