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港台工會 | 4th May 2007 | 感想 | (1056 Reads)


This is what I’ve always believed: “To listen, to speak of the hardship of the powerless and the underprivileged in our society and to speak for them is what a documentary filmmaker ought to do.”

I have worked in RTHK for more than a decade. Naturally I identify myself with its corporate culture, and feel I have a deep understanding of it. Certainly much deeper than that shown in the superficial “Report on Review of Public Service Broadcasting in Hong Kong”.

RTHK is a public asset. It belongs to the Hong Kong people. As a producer for the station, I feel that it is the community that gives us the right to work in the best interests of this asset. To quote Donald Tsang’s campaign slogan, “I will get the job done!” It is quite obvious to me that the real boss, to whom I am accountable, is the public.

My responsibility is to add value to this public asset. However, since the handover the tendency towards “media censorship and political correctness” has increased. It’s now pretty much the air we breathe. As part of the media, RTHK cannot escape the pressures to conform. Still, its staff try to protect this public asset from losing its value and safeguard the freedom of speech it is here to promote. Still, they try to give “the powerful or powerless, rich or poor” an equal opportunity to be heard. As a producer, I have found this work to be getting harder in the past decade or so. It is also sometimes less appreciated.

A Channel for the voiceless

I started working on “Hong Kong Connection” in 1993. My first story was about the campaign of immigrants from the mainland to get right of abode in Hong Kong. Since then I’ve produced six programmes on the issue, between the handover and the 2002 deadline for deporting those who lost their court case. People have differing views on this group of abode seekers, but I felt it was my duty to provide a channel for them to voice their opinions, to ensure that there was still room in our society for their stories to be told. It was our duty to provide another perspective on what was going on in society than the one that dominated the mass media. I remember clearly at the time that the then Secretary for Security, Regina Ip, threatened in Legco that an influx of 1.67 million mainlanders to Hong Kong would swamp us.

30th March, 2002 - the deadline for deporting the abode seekers. That day, a Hong Kong Connection programme, “A Beginning of An End” was aired. Our online forum received more than two hundred comments, 99% of which were against the abode seekers, were negative responses, or were even personal attacks on the producer. Compared to the previous two programmes, “Point of No Return” (1993) and “Family Reunion” (1996), after which we received $10,000 in donations for the cases featured, these responses were very extreme.

Years later, as expected, 1.67 million mainlanders have not come to Hong Kong to swamp us. Instead, unforeseen at the time, hundreds of thousands of mainlanders are coming to Hong Kong as individual travelers, spending their money (or being cheated out of it). What hurt us most about this whole affair was the re-interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress. It eroded Hong Kong’s legal foundation and tradition of jurisprudence. This was my conclusion when I first produced the programme.

Editorial Independence

In July 2003, my colleagues and I produced a series of three documentaries on the proposed Legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law, and the July 1st march in which half a million people took to the street. After the programmes aired we had an internal discussion at RTHK. At four points in the programme, demonstrators shouted, “Down with Tung Chee-hwa!” In our first edit of the programme, people chanted it six times, but as the duration of the first edit was too long our executive producer suggested cutting out two of them. We, as producers, had no objection to that. After the programme aired, some in our management questioned whether protesters shouted “Down with Tung Chee-hwa!” too often. But how many times was too many?

500,000 protesters took part in the march that day. The slogan was chanted from noon until eight or nine at night. It’s a good case-study of what editorial freedom means. A reporter’s job is to reflect reality in his or her report, an executive producer’s job is to act as a gatekeeper, but the management has different pressures. RTHK is a public broadcaster, but it is also a government department. And let’s not forget, Mr. Tung was still our Chief Executive at the time.

As I see it, the problem of our management is this: as a member of a government department, when phone calls are made from on high and questions asked, will you dare to answer back? Thinking back, both parties involved did their job and did it well. If - in acting as the gatekeeper - the executive producer had tried to second-guess the management’s “concerns” and not made a professional editorial judgement, the decision to “soften” the reality would have been invisible to the public. RTHK is trapped between these two roles. Trying to cope, it’s easy for many of the staff to develop a sense of “schizophrenia”. In the face of these strains, at the end of the day “editorial freedom” can become just an empty phrase.

It is not only a job

21st September, 2004. The results of the first Legco election after the July 1st march were significant. I produced an episode of Hong Kong Connection on the election. My focus was on young people’s first step into politics. The programme aired at an extremely sensitive time, two hours before the election results were in. There was a little controversy. The management suggested a “cooling-off period”, i.e. delaying the programme so it didn’t run on the day of the election. My first thought was, “Okay, so my programme will be pre-empted.” Yet the journalist in me thought: “Timing is everything”. My superior and I had a heated debate, during which I stressed repeatedly that the content of the programme would be in line with election regulations and would not affect the result. In the end, the programme aired as planned. If this were just a job to me, I would not fight the way I fought. If all else failed I could have looked for another job. Outsiders might not understand and would say, “It is just a job.” Maybe. Losing a job, losing money, is just another day as usual for many job seekers. But RTHK is a public asset. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

Self Censorship?

26th March, 2007. Two days after the third Chief Executive election, the documentary on the Chief Executive that I’d been producing for half a year aired. This episode of Hong Kong Connection was called, “Achieving the Impossible”. We all knew Donald Tsang would win. But there was another focus: Alan Leong and a group of election committee members believe there was a chance for a contested CE ballot. My executive producer and I agreed to let the visuals speak for themselves and not use any narration in the programme. Of course, I know that no matter how “brilliantly clever” you are in expressing yourselves, those who want to criticise you can always find a way.

Within days, the “Report on Review of Public Service Broadcasting” was released, perfectly timed to come out so soon after the Chief Executive’s election. Of course the veteran journalists on the committee knew well the journalistic theory of “Timing is everything”. A good friend and fellow journalist called me and said the report had mapped out the road to RTHK’s death. And he jokingly added, “Look what you did with your documentary two days ago.”

We are public Broadcasting

If you asked me now, “Do you practice self-censorship?” I’m not quite so sure. Maybe sometimes there’s a tendency to do the “wise” thing and weigh the consequences. This would not sound right to my boss, i.e. the public. However, the collar around our neck tightens a little more each and every day, suffocating and weakening us. If this collar could be removed, the colour would return to our cheeks. Freeing RTHK from the government and transforming it into a statutorily-independent public broadcaster is the only way out of the current situation. The broadcasting review report focuses solely on the future, neglecting the hard realities of the present. It even sidelines our existence. It aims to “fix” RTHK, not to fix the problem. That’s the agenda because, to some, we ARE the “problem”. But the committee, at the very least, owes an explanation to the public, the true owner of this public asset: why you are destroying this asset? The fact is that the things we in RTHK do every day are the very things the future of public service broadcasting requires.

What can I do now? Apart from saying to my boss, to you the public, “I will get the job done!” I want to add, “I will fight the good fight!” We will maintain our professionalism. Will you stand with us?

By Eric Poon, Producer of “Hong Kong Connection”
Executive Committee, RTHK Programme Staff Union
(Originally in Chinese, translated by Diana Wan / producer of RTHK)