The Day that Spot News Disappear…

Manson Chum Shun Kin - Senior Reporter, Ming Pao Daily News (Translated by Chow Hang-tung)

Let’s return to 27th January, Happy Valley.

That night a drunken woman was racing her luxury car along Stubbs Road; the inside of the car reeking of alcohol. Suddenly, the car rammed head-on into a bus on the opposite lane. Such a result had long been forewarned in TV adverts. If you don’t heed the advice, sooner or later you will be involved in an accident.

And then, police arrived on the scene as was routine. The drunken woman stood unsteadily by her car.

“Miss, please blow into the breathalyzer.”

“I don't know what you say!”

“You don’t understand Chinese? Ok, let’s speak English.”

“I don't care, I need to leave!”

“Miss, don’t go!”

“Don’t touch me!”

“Smack!” The hand that moments before had been holding a wine glass smacked loudly into the face of the policeman.

You know what? The stunned policeman dropped to the ground, remaining silent for two seconds, before yelling, “Aiya!” He then pointed to the drunken woman, saying, “Arrest her! I was hit by that woman, now my ear is ringing, my face is swollen red, and I cannot hear a thing!”

Following some commotion, the suspect was finally handcuffed and arrested. Inside the police station, the woman, still under the effects of alcohol, was said to have slapped another policewoman. Was there any more drama inside the police station? No one knows, all we know is that another female officer got slapped. Because there were no journalists, no cameras, no microphones around there are no objective records.

Up till this point the story has no identity, no faces and no license plate numbers. Apart from the police, there was no other objective recorder who was trustworthy enough.

Serious discussion on judiciary

The next day, the sun rose as usual. The bus was towed to the depot, and the drunken woman should have become sober by now. In a tea restaurant the driver told the above story, a common city tale. Maybe a waiter would laugh and say, “What a woman!” Maybe a customer picking his teeth would also pick out a response, “What’s the big deal?

It wasn’t like the case of Nicholas Tse asking someone else to take the fall for his wrongdoing. Who is she? Just for laugh! Breakfast done and the customers dispersed, the breakfast menu changed into the lunch menu, and our city forgot this little episode.

This is how that day would have been if spot news disappeared. That day may not be far off.

Let’s get back to the present. Now everyone knows that the drunken woman is the niece of Kemal Bokhary, permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, and the niece, as well, of Ronald Arculli, chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing. “Who is she?” I believe everyone knows; “Just for laugh?” The story has transformed into a serious discussion on how fair the Hong Kong judiciary is, I for one cannot laugh at this. Forgetting it in the next minute? Yet seven million people have been talking about it for over a month; it has become an important page in Hong Kong’s history.

It was spot news pictures showing the drunken woman’s face; it was a spot news cameraman who recorded the sound of that loud slap; it was the spot news journalists who told you the identity of the woman; in addition they also told you that it was the third time this same woman had attacked a police officer. Yet she never spent a day jail.

Livelihoods in Media at stake, But Much More to the Public

I would like to ask the citizens, do you wish to see such captivating scenes, hear such frenzied sounds? Do you want to know? Let me rephrase this in a more serious, more correct manner: as a Hong Kong person, a person who cares about the future of the Hong Kong judicial system, do you have the right to know? Do you have the need to discuss? Do we not need to question our judicial system?

With the Fire Services Department shifting fully to a digital communication system by mid-2011, such scenes, such news, may well completely disappear, as spot news journalists can then no longer use the traditional method of listening to analog communication to know in time, report in time, and reveal in time to the public. People in the industry have been saying that this would surely affect the livelihoods of spot news journalists, as media companies may lay off large number of employees. Yet as professional media workers, they know well that it is pointless to talk to the public about their own livelihoods, or about the future of the industry, as the public would not feel that they have lost anything and thus would not care. In their eyes, all that would be lost is the journalists’ own jobs. They would not realise that the right to know that they have enjoyed all these years have been quietly taken away. When they see less and less killing, suicide, stealing and fighting on the news, they would simply think that their city is getting more and more secure. They would not realise that crimes are still happening all around them, even if a flat in the building down the road has been robbed, as long as the culprit remains free, the neighbourhood may well remain blind to the crime.

Chipping at the foundations

Am I just being an alarmist? Think carefully, and you would notice that the news about the “praying scam” * has almost disappeared from the newspapers. Does this mean that the “praying scam” has disappeared? Not a bit. The latest crime statistics - released by the police every six months - show that “praying scam” and “medicine scam” * are still very much active. The police might say, the program “Police Magazine” shows the public case reconstructions, so it does not matter even if spot news disappeared. But these “Police Magazines” cases are all dated! Spot news can show the public instantly what is happening in the city, enabling the citizens to take suitable precautions. In addition, will “Police Magazine” showcase instances like the niece of Kemal Bokhary? Does the public feel that case reconstruction can surpass spots news scenes in realistically conveying what happened? Can case reconstruction more truthfully render details like the actual conversation, attitude of the parties involved, or the sound of the slap? Without these details, would the case arouse such heated debate?

The media is described as the fourth estate, responsible for monitoring the society, the rich and powerful, the government, and the judiciary. I find that a superficial interpretation; the power of the fourth estate did not came with its birth. It comes from the citizens, the general public. If the citizens do not care, do not discuss, do not question, and do not fume, no public opinion would be formed and the fourth estate would be just empty words. Eliminating spot news is, in a sense, chipping at the foundations of our right to know.

What will be the result if citizens cannot monitor the society through the media? Will the social atmosphere of honesty and fairness persist? Are we certain that the quality of the Hong Kong police will not become more like that in the Philippines, or that they will not become a tool of political suppression as in mainland China? I have no answer to these questions, but history will have. Yet citizens have to bear the risk that once the quality of society starts to decline, it will be a long and painful process to reverse the downfall.

*Confidence tricksters or conmen have a variety of scams to con money, sometimes very large sums, from unsuspecting or highly gullible victims. The scams used vary with time and usage. Widespread publicity often put a stop to them quickly, or until the tricksters come up with new scams.