Stupid rules no good for election coverage

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 Jul 2018

The election guidelines requiring media organizations to mention all candidates in their reports are ludicrous and should be scrapped.

Naturally, the pledge by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to review the requirement in light of a recent advisory made by the Communications Authority relating to TVB's reports about the 2017 chief executive election should be welcome

However, I'm concerned the review - if ever it is conducted - may not go far enough to totally eliminate the absurd requirement.

A half-baked review won't be enough.

The authority's action was based on two complaints filed by a complainant, who lodged his discontent that TVB missed the names of some "candidates" when reporting on the CE election.

Before reaching its verdict, the authority passed the buck over to Electoral Affairs Commission for it to confirm whether the broadcaster had breached any of the rules and regulations.

Surprisingly or not, the authority refrained from punishing TVB really hard - only advising it to observe the guidelines more closely in future. While that reprimand was rather lenient, the leniency didn't make the absurd guidelines any less absurd.

The guidelines at the center of the dispute are officially known as the Guidelines on Election-related Activities of the Chief Executive Election, and have been in force for awhile. Similar requirements are also contained in electoral guidelines relating to other elections, including for the Legislative Council.

They are purportedly written to ensure fair and equal treatment by the media for all candidates. In practice, it's required that all candidate be mentioned in the reports, although the reports may have little to do with them.

The authority has insisted the requirement is merited, which I seriously dispute. If anything, it would only be a "fairness" of convenience.

As in the above cases, those whose names were missed in the reports were never nominated - only that they had publicly expressed an interest in running. But because of the electoral regulations, they were immediately classified as "candidates."

Happily, Hong Kong is a free society and people here are supposedly free to speak whatever they like. So, there are always a number of people declaring a bid for this or that seat, in one or another election - which is fine.

Understandably, some may be serious, and others could be playful or frivolous.

It's only sensible for the media to devote more resources to covering the serious contenders, for this would mean a lot to the public. It would be unreasonable to demand the media devote as much attention to those whose participation is no more than a stunt aimed at getting free publicity.

Mentioning all the names won't make a race any fairer - it's entirely up to the candidates to prove they warrant the coverage. I highly doubt that an editorial team would avoid reporting on a candidate if he or she merited coverage.

The last thing to wish is for government bodies to interfere with the media's editorial independence.

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