Silly Season

The summer can be a difficult time for media organisations as a lot of the people they rely on to feed them stories or do newsworthy things are on holiday. For a long time a whole generation of newspapermen called this the "Silly Season" because trivial events that might not normally attract any coverage at all would suddenly become hot topics, even front page news, for want of alternative.

So perhaps we should all be grateful to the leader of the so-called Hong Kong National Party, Andy Chan Ho Tin, for helping to fill the gap between Legco going into summer recess and members straggling back from holidays in early September, by giving us something to write about in the interim.

For a virtual political neophyte, with a nonsensical platform and a bare handful of followers, he has certainly struck gold by getting no fewer than three of our four chief executives to talk about him publically. And all that before he even gets up to speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. But in fairness he has had a lot of assistance from individuals and organisations scrambling to give him far more coverage than his batty ideas merit.

Let us deal first with this issue of independence, and the idea that Hong Kong could somehow become a separate nation. It won’t take long to dismiss the suggestion because it is both ludicrous and impossible.

Article 1 of the Basic Law (see, you don’t have to read very far to find it) states emphatically and unambiguously that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China. Can anyone seriously foresee the day when the National People’s Congress is likely to repeal that Article? Of course not.

But our Mr Chan is not daunted by this as we mere mortals might be, so he wants to set up an organisation – legally speaking a "society" – to pursue independence for our city. As luck would have it, the Registrar of Societies is the Commissioner of Police. When the relevant police unit examined the application, the expressed objective caught their eye. It also appears that in other public remarks Chan had made previously in speeches or on Facebook he had pledged to pursue his cause by "whatever effective means" which some took to imply could include force. If that were true, then Chan could already be tiptoeing around the fringes of sedition. In any event, the Secretary for Security has given the party until early September to show why he should not accept the police recommendation to not register the society.

We now move into the realm of inevitable escalation where it is hard to blame any of the people involved too much for what they did next, but each step seemed to bring us inexorably to a ridiculous outcome. It is hard to blame the police officers for reaching the conclusion that they did (although claiming that the group represented a serious and imminent threat to national security is surely hyperbole). It is hard to blame the minister for considering the case carefully and giving Chan time to make representations, as a legal challenge would certainly follow if he had not. I’m not sure it was wise of him to issue a press release to say so because that of course rendered the matter newsworthy, which in turn makes it hard to blame the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for giving Chan a platform to state his case. The members job is to report the news rather than make it, but the press release was a gift horse.

Since 2003, the international media has been watching like hawks to see when and if the government would finally move forward with security legislation as required by Article 23. When it comes, such a move will be a major story but in the absence of any sign of the administration doing so soon, the proposed denial of registration is a useful proxy.

By now the Silly Season was in full swing and the situation was spinning out of control. It is hard to blame the various organs representing the central government for being displeased with the FCC event, but they should surely by now be sophisticated enough to know that making an open approach to the Club asking its board to withdraw the invitation could have only one outcome. Why not rely on the local authorities to deal with it? Sure enough, past and serving chief executives have condemned the event as regrettable. In such high octane circumstances, one of them had what we older folk call a "senior moment" and claimed erroneously that the FCC lease was concessionary. When gently corrected by the incumbent chief who made clear the rent was a commercial one, he had a Trump-like seizure and doubled down on his earlier error by suggesting the building be put up for open tender.

Quite how kicking foreign correspondents out of their club would boost our international image and contribute to Hong Kong’s role in development of the greater bay area, for example, is difficult to fathom. And of course the mere threat was enough to stir such luminaries as the International Federation Journalists to come out fighting.

I will be attending Chan’s lunch talk if only to see how he answers some fairly fundamental questions. After all, the World Cup is over, the MTRC top management has committed hara kiri, what else can one do in the Silly Season?