This year marks the 35th anniversary of City Forum, the longest-running program produced by public broadcaster RTHK. Joseph Tse Chi-fung, the show’s host since 2004, will turn 60 this October.
“I have to retire when I reach 60, according to RTHK’s policy,” Tse said, betraying a sense of unwillingness.
City Forum is known for its free style. It brings together politicians, academics and prominent public figures to discuss current issues, and members of the public can participate in the Q&A session every Sunday noon.
In a recent chat with the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Tse looks back at his years as host of the program.
Q: Who among the guests did you appreciate most in the past 12 years?
A: Stephen Lam Sui-lung (the former chief secretary for Administration). As a government official, he is very responsible. He would attend the show by himself, even though he knew the situation would be a nightmare.
Also Florence Hui Hiu-fai (the undersecretary for the Home Affairs Bureau). She was teased by a bunch of youngsters once. They asked her to have tea with them. I then suggested she buy drinks for them from a tuck shop nearby to smooth things over. Quite unexpectedly, she said yes. As a government official, she wasn’t a bit stuck-up.
Q: Which guest did you hate most?
A: Chim Pui-chung (a former member of the Legislative Council). In one show, he was expressing his views in the Forum, when Wong Yuk-man, another speaker that day, made a comment, and [Chim] snapped at him. [Chim] lost his temper and left instantly.
Q: Which guest you think is the most unforgettable?
A: Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (the current chief secretary for Administration). That time we held the Forum at Queen’s Pier. (Editor’s note: In 2007, the government wanted to demolish the pier for land reclamation. The plan encountered fierce opposition from conservationists who wanted to preserve the landmark.)
Lam was the secretary of Development. Knowing that it would be a long and painful fight, she still chose to attend the Forum. The debate was fierce but rational; it was a real communication.
Q: Which guest could give the most bombastic speech and views?
A: We recently had Lew Mon-hung (Editor’s note: A high-profile supporter of Leung Chun-ying during the 2012 chief executive election, Lew later turned against Leung publicly).
His view is that the 831 Resolution is in fact unconstitutional. However, this view contradicts the CY Leung and central government’s directives.
Interestingly, he firmly believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping doesn’t like what’s happening now in Hong Kong, and he will bring things back to order at last. So if you want news, find him. He can always give you some punch lines. But he also often makes fallacious arguments.
Q: Which moment did you find most touching?
A: We once held the Forum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. On the same day, the Goddess of Democracy was being moved into the CUHK campus. Thousands of students were escorting the statute, their passion melted everyone’s heart.
Q: What do you think of the “Uncles of Victoria Park”?
(Editor’s note: “Uncles of Victoria Park” refer to a group of retired men who are pro-Beijing. Whenever politicians from the pan-democratic camp express their views during the show, these uncles would use their own loud speakers to scream, howl and boo the speakers, interrupting the Forum in an ill-mannered way.)
A: “Uncles of Victoria Park” are loyal to the Communist Party of China. However, they have no vision at all.
They support everything from mainland China or the Communist Party. But when it comes to something that hurt their interests, such as new immigrants who live and work in the city, they would say that they are taking advantage of us. Actually, their views are contradictory.
Q: Among these uncles, who do you find the most adorable?
A: There is one uncle who always wears a Mao Zedong patch. He doesn’t use bad language or attack others verbally. He would wait until the end of the Forum to express his views with his little loud speaker.
Q: Under what situation do you stop someone from expressing their views?
A: When people say dirty words and talk nonsense.
Q: What is the biggest change for City Forum in its 35 years of history?
A: The theme went from livelihood to politics and the political views went from moderate to radical.
Q: How many years have you worked in the media industry?
A: Thirty-four years.
Q: Where did you graduate?
A: I graduated with a journalism degree from National Chengchi University in Taiwan.
Q: If you hadn’t become a media man, what would you be doing?
A: Probably working in a factory, or in a hotel as a receptionist, if I never studied journalism.
Q: What is the most memorable thing in your life as a reporter?
A: The Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Many reporters refused to report on the spot, but I thought that was my mission.
And the interview with Lai Changxing the smuggler, too. Lai evaded Chinese authorities and resided in Canada. I managed to do an exclusive interview with him when he was in custody.
What’s my trick?
I sent him messages written in simplified Chinese, in which I told him I wanted to pay him a visit.
When I had a chance to talk to him on the phone, I said, “How is your life, bro? Can you adjust yourself in new conditions?” — to let him feel that he had a friend outside when he was serving his time.
Q: As a former employee of Asia Television Limited, do you think it should keep on operating or be shut down?
A: The news team in ATV has been working hard, but they are kind of bookish. They just don’t know how to market and promote themselves in the commercial world. They have actually tried their best.
How great would it be if, one day, they would let me take charge of the news department.
Q: What if ATV wants to hire you? Will you say yes? But maybe no salary…?
A: That would be tempting. I always feel sorry for them.
Q: What do you want to do after you retire?
A: I would like to travel all around China with my Phoenix bicycle. Or it would be nice if I could study in Peking University for four years before I die. Unfortunately, these are just dreams.
Q: What stops you from chasing your dream?
A: My wife has a different view. She has Sinophobia. Besides, my youngest daughter is just 15.
The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 23.
[Chinese version 中文版]
Translation by Betsy Tse
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