Thursday, April 24, 2014   




HKEJ's apology unwarranted

Mary Ma

Friday, February 08, 2013

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The chief executive has shown chutzpah in taking the Hong Kong Economic Journal to task over a "libellous" commentary about him. Or has he?

Leung Chun-ying's threat to sue the daily over Joseph Lian Yi-zheng's January 29 commentary throws open the gates for his political enemies to further criticize the chief executive - as if they needed such a tempting invitation.

The avalanche of attacks from the pro-democracy camp was predictable. Perhaps the newspaper should thank Leung. At the very least, those who didn't read Lian's column are now looking for a copy of it to find out what it was all about.

In the commentary, the veteran writer analyzed former Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference member Lew Mon-hung's accusations against Leung, and made two main observations.

First, that Leung and his chief executive election rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, were associated with the same political faction in Beijing; and second, Lian voiced concern about CY's suspected affiliation with the triads that is a growing concern in local politics.

Lian, an academic by training, had been the HKEJ's chief editor and a member of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's think tank before becoming a die-hard government critic.

There are at least two schools of thought in sizing up this latest controversy - the most straightforward being that Leung was being stupid. It's not the first time he has threatened the media with legal action. But the last time he did so was during the election.

This is the first such threat since he won the SAR's top post.

His threat drew immediate fire from critics as an attempt to silence critics. Pro-democracy lawyers said his flimsy case wouldn't stand up in court.

Leung couldn't have been that stupid not to realize all this beforehand. As the HKEJ's chief editor Chan King- cheung expressed shock and disappointment over the threatened lawsuit, he said what's happening was unusual. He's bang on target there.

On the one hand, it's legitimate for cynics to point out that if Leung is serious about suing the daily, he should have taken legal action against Lew first - since it was the "Dream Bear" who hurled the accusations in the first place.

However, the whole matter is also unusual in view of the contradiction between the newspaper's conciliatory notice and Chan's strong response.

The last paragraph of its notice said "if this piece has caused readers to arrive at an unfair conclusion about Mr Leung or inconvenience, then the newspaper apologizes."

But Chan insisted the apology was to readers - not Leung.

That aspect of the notice is intriguing.

It may be a play on words. But an apology is an apology; an admission of mistakes is still an admission. But why the conflicting responses? Some obvious questions remain unanswered.

Leung, as the chief executive, has trampled on press freedom with his threat against the paper. Why didn't the HKEJ fight back vigorously and grasp the opportunity to expose Leung to ridicule in court instead of running a notice that was tantamount to an apology?

Is Leung really incapable of anticipating the hostile feedback that should have been in his best interest to avoid?

Or could there be other reasons that he can't speak about openly?

The picture is far from clear.


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