Speech on Motion under the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance

First of all, may I thank the Hon Claudia Mo for proposing this Resolution to allow me to comment on the Lee Wai-ling Affair from personal experience? I am sorry that my remarks might be double punch to Ms Lee at this juncture but I am convinced that my unpleasant experience would help us better understand what might have really happened. I also realize that what I am saying today might bring more undue criticisms in future but I am duty bound to speak out.
We all uphold press freedom or (in different words) editorial independence. That said, are we aware that press freedom has an inseparable brother known as press ethics? They are two sides of the same coin. Where there is freedom there should be ethics. If there were only freedom but no ethics, media abuse or even tyranny would appear. Journalists have great responsibilities and thus also extensive power. If they lack ethics, the problem would be very serious.
The first code of practice in professional ethics as published on the website of Journalists Association says that members of the media should handle news materials with investigative, fair, objective, impartial and complementary approaches. Care should be taken to ensure accurate reporting without miscomprehension or misinterpretation that might mislead the public. Many friends of mine in the media have inherited these traditions. In fact, a conscious journalist would abide to them voluntarily. If any media chose to ignore, the outcome would be unmanageable because the community’s hands are tied. Any criticism might be construed as interference of press freedom and thus would be immoral.
In our debate today, we could not avoid commenting on Ms Lee herself and her style as a programme host because they are crucial to our judgment. She hosts prime-time programmes but her style, in my view, is radical and even prejudiced. If benchmarked against the standard of press ethics, it would fail most of the tests. In fact, I have repeated but interesting experience. When approached for telephone interviews on Commercial Radio, I was sometimes hesitant for concern of impartial reporting. Both frontline reporters and management would immediately disassociate themselves with Ms Lee. They clarified they were professionals of News Department and Ms Lee was staff of Programme Department. They also reassured that all would be treated indifferently and did keep their words. Yet, how could ordinary people on the street distinguish between these two departments? Admittedly, many hosts in the Programme Department of Commercial Radio are fair and square.
As the public rely on the media for information, journalists are controlling a key public tool. Apart from monitoring the government, they also have an important role of reporting facts to help people understand the full picture and make their own judgments. Therefore, if the media were selective in reporting and biased in commentary, the public would likely be misled.
Let me illustrate with a recent case. When an incident of sea cruiser passengers refusing to disembark on arrival happened last month, Ms Lee’s assistant called my office requesting for an interview on travel insurance and claims related to sea cruise. When I returned call, there was not much time left before her programme went on air. As travel insurance for sea cruise is specialization, it would take time for me to digest terms and conditions of various underwriters before proper advices might be offered to the public. Thus, I suggested them interviewing a relevant insurance specialist instead and immediately asked the Federation of Insurers for help. Unfortunately, HKFI could not find the right person for interview but they responded to her queries in writing. HKFI also followed up with her assistant who confirmed that the reply had been handed to Ms Lee. I was also advised that HKFI released the same reply to other medias. Meanwhile, I was busy consulting specialists on possible claims and answering other media enquiries. Actually, I was quoted by Ming Pao in its reporting. Thus, there is no ground to criticize the insurance industry and me for failing to respond.
Regrettably, Ms Lee did not mention the written reply in her programme on that day but criticized the industry and me for failing to respond instead. A few days later, she repeated these criticisms in her column. In my view, this incident shows that what she then cared about were not the affected passengers at all. If she were, she would explain possible claims quoting from the written reply of HKFI. However, she did not and chose to criticize people for refusal to attend interviews instead. This was not only a far cry from journalism but also gross distortion of facts. Basically, I could hardly agree that Ms Lee is a professional journalist. In my view she is abusing her role in criticizing the functional constituency and me on radio and in the press. Many government officers told me that they would no longer attend her interviews because of such unpleasant experience.
I always believe that a professional programme host or current affairs critic should enjoy more room in expressing personal views than reporters and might even challenge the authority. However, press ethics must be observed. Actually, I have appeared on other Commercial Radio programmes where hosts are equally critical but they do respect facts and impartiality. Both sides could freely express their views. The problem with Ms Lee is her style and arrogance in cornering guests. There are unconfirmed complaints that she kept on criticizing even after the guest had hung up and in the absence of dialogue.
Apart from the recent sea cruiser accident, I have attended only a few interviews with her but I am seemed to be targeted at. Back in September 2008, I was first elected to this Council and awaiting swear-in in October. I was then unfamiliar with the media. When the AIG incident occurred, the media would like to find out the position of policyholders. It was a sensitive issue because that company had more than two million local policies outstanding. Any inaccurate information or comment would run the risk of triggering crisis comparable to bank runs. Only the Commissioner of Insurance that monitors its financial position was eligible to comment. Therefore, I asked the Commissioner to meet the press and a briefing was scheduled for 5:00pm in the afternoon. My office also helped notifying the media. However, Ms Lee criticized me in her programme unfoundedly. She even wrote in her column that I was unreachable and called for posting bills to find the “missing person”. Her language was so cruel that my friends and relatives were grossly upset. They asked me why the media was so unscrupulous in reporting.
As she is laid off by Commercial Radio, Ms Lee is certainly upset. However, she should self-criticize and learn to become more professional. What is utmost important in interviews is providing accurate information in a professional way. Thus, adequate time should be allowed and details of coverage should be given for preparation. It is unscrupulous to attack people on air and in column. In fact, difference in political views should always be respected as freedom of speech is utmost essential.
Termination of employment on this occasion is unlikely to be related to press freedom. According to media reports, Ms Lee might be laid off for three causes. First, she was in dispute with her boss and superior. Second, audience rating was falling. Third, she intended to quit. Actually, Ms Lee is appearing in a new station already. Thus, the allegation of silencing her could not be substantiated as she could still find platforms to express her views. Moreover, disagreement with boss and superior even in the media would mean lacking mutual trust. Both sides could hardly work together any more in reality.
Last but not least is falling audience rating. It could hardly be verified but is not inconceivable. Many friends of mine say that they were first attracted to her programme by stimulating criticisms. As time went by, they found that her views were repeatedly negative as it seemed nobody but she was righteous. They have now quitted and I believe that they are not the minority. All these are plausible causes. Don’t try to self-coronate with the halo of press freedom. It would be insulting, wouldn’t it?
What I have been trying to say today is that the Lee Wai-ling Affair is simply another employment or labour dispute that happens to have complication. Someone is trying to relate it to press freedom and put it in the context of license renewal of the station. They are merely trying to politicize it for personal agenda. Frankly, I do not believe that freedom of speech in Commercial Radio is compromised with the departure of Ms Lee. Its programme hosts are still freely expressing their views. I wish Ms Lee would realize that unless she changes her confrontational style and prejudiced approach I would refrain from attending her interviews.
I am sociable and affable but intolerant of hypocrites who abuse public tools to pursue private agenda. Hong Kong is falling amidst internal fights and conflicts because of them. When Ms Lee no longer writes and closes her column, I wish the community would not to try linking it with press freedom by default.
Mr President, I do not support the resolution to investigate this incident under the power and privilege law because its causes are simple and straightforward.

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