Hong Kong is eerily quiet this morning. Normally voluble taxi drivers sit in their cabs in silence. Stunned youthful bemusement replaces the chatter of schoolchildren. Wheelers and dealers put their mobile phones down and stare contemplatively into space. Not a creature stirs, not even a mouse. What on earth, 7 million citizens wonder in astonishment, are these people going on about?
First there is Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam’s latest simpering attempt to justify the proposal to ban by-elections for Legislative Council geographic constituencies and fill a vacant seat with the candidate who came next down the list at the election.
Every vote electors cast will have two effects, announces the rather desperate-sounding minister: firstly, the one we all know about, and…
“Secondly, the more votes they cast for a particular candidate list, the higher the possibility of that candidate list being able to field a candidate as a replacement Legislative Councillor in future, if resignations or other vacancy situations arise … We are building this proposal on the basis of a proportional representation electoral system. This system will enable different lists of candidates to secure seats to the Legislative Council, and to secure the opportunity of allowing candidates on their lists to replace and to field any vacancies in future. So this is in consistency with the concept of proportional representation.”
While a combined task force of psephologists, logicians, Nobel Prize-winning semioticians and experts on incomprehensible untrustworthy slimebags sets to work to try and establish what Lam is actually saying, a second example of ill-thought-out opaque vagueness appears from nowhere. Electoral Affairs Commission Chairman Justice Barnabas Fung unveils proposed revised guidelines on electoral activities that would require on-line media to follow the same rules as their mainstream counterparts and give a fair hearing to all candidates.
Some are worried that the guidelines could cover amateur on-line audio streams, teenagers’ video podcasts and even the output of inconsequential bloggers. Fung “refused to say if the ‘undefined public media’ will include internet radio and TV sites, blogs, video sites like YouTube or social networking sites like Facebook.” Everything, he insisted, could only be examined on a case-by-case basis, and – he seemed to suggest – bloggers, teenagers, etc should consult their lawyers before posting anything.
In answering reporters’ questions, Fung was not so much careful with his words as petrified of saying anything definite. So let’s help him out with a dose of firm, unambiguous principles and clarity.
First, the ‘equal time’ guidelines are a hodgepodge of well-intentioned, meaningless blather that probably require a bit of effort to seriously infringe. Second, the penalties for breaking the guidelines are equally vacuous – unless you quake in your boots at the thought of the EAC making a reprimand or censure in a public statement (10.21) about you. Third, Basic Law Article 27 says: “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication…” As we all know, the meaning of Basic Law articles may be reversed, inverted, turned inside-out or mangled to shreds by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, but so far this one still stands. Plus there’s the usual UN human rights declarations.
I have no idea why a strange unquestioning meekness grips our – normally cheerily biased – media on the subject of these unenforceable and unconstitutional rules every time an election comes round, to the extent that newspapers suspend political columns and even minimize coverage of any candidates. The simple fact is: you can stuff Judge Barnabas’s ‘equal time’ guidelines.
But we still haven’t a clue what Stephen Lam is saying.