It’s one of those journalism ethics questions: should the press report gory details about an individual’s private life if there is a tenuous claim that the public has a right to know, or should it refuse to stoop to titillation and prurience?
No prizes for guessing that the Standard will take the tabloid route and tell all about how Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung’s daughter posted photos on Facebook (‘since taken down’) supposedly showing her slashed wrists. As if to compensate for discreetly putting it at the bottom of Page 2, they allow themselves a more-clunky-than-tasteless headline. As part of the pro-tycoon Sing Tao media group with a preference for negative coverage of Leung, this isn’t surprising. In fact, they downplay the tawdriness and run a story mostly comprising background, complete with a hackneyed quote from ‘a psychiatrist’. They even devote plenty of space to the Leung family’s cool-and-calm, not-too-obviously-damage-limitation response – a photo of dad and daughter smiling in a park with a dog far more repulsive-looking than any bleeding limb.
The South China Morning Post, with a century-old tradition of decency and moderation to uphold, would obviously rise above all this wouldn’t they? Actually – no. Realistically, they couldn’t totally ignore this story: the girl seems to have posted the images in a public forum, and with Hong Kong going through one of its more angst-ridden crises, anything that might affect the Chief Executive’s performance is arguably a valid subject. Conscience clear, they go with a rather generous amount of space on Page 1 of the City section, an in-your-face, enjoy-your-breakfast headline, and a mercifully sensible quote from a pro-democracy legislator/sociologist. The website edition carries blood-spattered Facebook pictures in extra detail if you want them.
There is something about CY – the ‘red’ background, the loner image, the great acquired wealth and that creepy sort of Romanian look – that inspires conspiracy theories. When he recently contradicted Beijing’s psychotic Global Times newspaper’s mouth-frothing about the Occupy Central referendum being illegal, suspicious Hongkongers jumped to the conclusion that the whole thing was arranged to make the embattled Chief Executive look like a noble defender of the Big Lychee’s values and liberties.
This latest drama, with a daughter supposedly self-harming while dad is in-flight en-route to London, is arousing even more extreme cynicism. The theory now is that the affair is a charade contrived to enable CY to stand down with honour, or at least convince us all to feel compassion and pity for him and by extension for things like the Northeast New Territories development plans. Which, if true, would bring new meaning to the phrase ‘cry for help’. We can assume such notions are wacky and absurd, until, in these unusual times, they are proved otherwise.
As usual with intrusive human-interest celebrity (kind of) gossip stuff, you wonder what we are supposed to find so fascinating. Either this or anorexia happens to every other family, and it’s not news. Don’t know the girl. Don’t wish her ill. Don’t know if it’s her wrist in the photos, or what has actually happened to it. Her sole claim to fame is a feisty Facebook comment about the stabbing of former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau, which suggests she inherited some oblivious-to-public-opinion genes from somewhere. Otherwise it would be one big ‘who cares?’ – except it has to happen at a time when Hong Kong is so on edge that everything needs to have a meaning and a reason.