The fake panic about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign seems to have died down in recent weeks, as if the United Front spin-doctors were taking a break for the holidays. Few have missed it. Establishment groups’ contrived and orchestrated alarm about the sit-in leading to violence and billions of dollars in damage was unconvincing and served mainly to highlight Beijing’s paranoia and even exaggerate the local pro-democrats’ clout.
Occupy Central is parallel to the other pro-democracy sects and crusades, but it could end up being the focus of the movement’s deep divide. Where will it stand in the (probable) event of a complete split between idealists demanding open nomination of Chief Executive election candidates, and realists who accept that Beijing can only accommodate a screening mechanism? In theory, we could end up with, say, the radicals barricading off and defacing Chater and Des Voeux Roads, while the moderates sit and strum guitars on Queens Road and Peddar Street.
So along comes a Hong Kong Transition Project survey to examine public opinion in three areas: the political consultation exercise’s fairness, Hong Kong identity and Occupy Central, all broken down by age, education and so on. It’s a big, detailed thing. The second of the three issues is actually the most interesting (essentially, it asks respondents to choose between ‘international’ Hong Kong and ‘national’ Chinese identity, with most people except the ancient and/or stupid choosing the former). But the media latch on to the third subject.
The South China Morning Post interprets the survey as showing that the majority of people oppose Occupy Central and fear it might damage the economy. It buries the details that the Standard highlights – namely that the majority of younger/educated people support the movement, while the majority against rises in older/uneducated brackets. In short, the SCMP twists the emphasis of the story enough to give a seriously misleading account.
As so often, this bias is so blatant that the readers are bound to notice (and quite possibly wonder why they are paying HK$9 when they can get something more objective for free). This laughably distorted version of the story did not appear in the expectation or hope of fooling you. It appeared so the editors could take it to the paper’s tycoon-owner to show how obedient they are in slanting stories to Beijing’s presumed liking; this is so the tycoon-owner can in turn take it to Beijing – if ever necessary – to show how ready he is to shoe-shine and kowtow to the Communist imperial court. The rest of us just look on in pity, and indeed in wonder at how easy it can seem to make Standard/Sing Tao owner and mogul-scion Charles Ho look like a newspaper proprietor of integrity and backbone.
One interesting finding in the opinion survey is that the young/educated supporters of Occupy Central are also the most worried about violence and mayhem breaking out. What does this mean? It could be that the kids are the only people in town taking the pro-Beijing forces’ propaganda about themselves as a threat to civilization seriously. It could be that the youthful idealists are swept up in the romance of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. Maybe they are simply calculating that no amiable compromise is possible in the struggle for political reform, and the way the wind is blowing points to harsh police action and an inevitable tough reaction (the opinion survey suggests that official oppression of Occupy Central will boost public support for the movement). Or perhaps the poll’s samples or methodology are at fault, and it means nothing. The only thing we know for sure is that you won’t find out in the papers.