Among the incessant avalanche of jabbering pouring forth today from the wearisomely loud and talkative DJ who precedes RTHK Radio 3’s morning news is the comment: “That song’s 15 years old – still sounds great.” As if a piece of popular music rots like a forgotten banana, or improves with age like a fine burgundy. I thought this style of broadcasting, in which the music is treated as undesirable but necessary filler while the presenter pauses for breath before inflicting more of his inane, chattering ‘personality’ on the listener, went out with the 1970s. Apparently not. (The only explanation I can think of is that he pays them for the airtime.)
Eventually, the final five minutes of this tortuous show come to an end and we get to the whole point of tuning in: Hong Kong Today. Considering that it has a monopoly of English-language radio news and is government-funded, this is usually an OK programme, thoughtfully structured in such a way that you can have a whole shower during the time they devote to padding out the content with long lists of sports results from distant lands. Yet something strange happens this morning around 10 minutes into the show. The news is suspended for a five-minute government puff-piece about the Hong Kong pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, narrated by an irritatingly cheerful female intern and focused on a lengthy and mumbled monologue from the civil servant who was in charge of the money-wasting project. (Insomniacs will be glad to learn that the mind-numbing feature is recorded for posterity starting at 10.45 on the audio stream.)
Ever since pro-Beijing patriots accused RTHK of not supporting the Tung Chee-hwa administration in the late 1990s, Radio 3 has felt a need to play a regular supply of ‘announcements in the public interest’, shockingly (indeed, suspiciously) embarrassing, half-minute ads in which an atrocious actor intones that drugs ruined his life – oh how he wishes he had never got involved with drugs – or an announcer excitedly declares that the latest budget or policy statement is out and contains many wonderful measures that will help the community become more prosperous and harmonious, oh yes.
The Expo pavilion blather is different, masquerading as some sort of current affairs story, like much of the drivel at the new-look news.gov.hk website. It was only in the early-mid 1980s that RTHK was given a remit to act as an objective, rather than guided, news provider, and it would be naïve to think that the humble English service would be immune from the officially ordained post-colonial mindset that brings us national education in schools, astronaut-worship and contrived enthusiasm over the Big Lychee’s role in the latest Five-Year Plan. It doesn’t change anyone’s mind about anything, but they have to do it, just in case failure to do so gets them into trouble and makes things worse.
Presumably, we will now have weekly, or even daily, reports of this sort. Maybe tomorrow we will have something about how the Chief Executive’s job is not easy (except they’ve done it already). Perhaps they can bundle them up with the in-depth coverage of Korean golfers and German soccer, and we can all treat ourselves to 10-minute showers every morning.