27 October 2016
The open letter from Leung Chun-ying (inset) drew more readers to Joseph Lian's column than might have seen it otherwise. Photos: HKEJ
The open letter from Leung Chun-ying (inset) drew more readers to Joseph Lian's column than might have seen it otherwise. Photos: HKEJ

Some thoughts on Leung’s open letter about HKEJ column

Any commentator would find it hard not to talk about the drama last month in the family of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

I watched the developments quietly and didn’t write anything about them at the time, as I believed that just like any other parent, Leung must have been distressed when news about his daughter’s illness was splashed across the local media.

Hong Kong Economic Journal former editor-in-chief Joseph Lian Yizheng’s column Hongkongers and Chai-yan: Where the similarities lie drew intense and polarized debate.

Leung, obviously irritated, issued an open letter to the newspaper accusing Lian of “making an issue” out of his daughter’s health problem. Leung asked the public to respect the privacy of Chai-yan and other family members and give them space and time.

In her response to Leung’s letter, the HKEJ’s current chief editor, Alice Kwok Yim-ming, dodged the issue, merely noting that “Lian has his own opinion, and it does not represent the view of the newspaper, which is a platform for different opinions”.

Is Kwok suggesting the HKEJ is no different from an online forum or community blog, since it is just “a platform for different opinions”? Is she saying Lian’s viewpoints have nothing at all to do with the newspaper’s stance?

Each and every word must be carefully examined during the editorial process before a newspaper is printed, and thus, unlike a live-streamed TV program or online discussion in which a disclaimer that the participants’ viewpoints do not represent that of the broadcaster is justified, printed newspapers do not have such a luxury.

Since editors are supposed to read, edit and amend all articles and columns, the chief editor or publisher cannot shrug off the responsibility by simply noting that some controversial articles do not represent the views of the newspaper.

This explains why in addition to the columnist himself, the publisher, the printer and the chief editor of the newspaper will also be sued for libel if someone insists an article is defamatory.

Such a disclaimer from Kwok can only make the columnist feel embarrassed and isolated.

In his following article, Lian stressed that “as always, my opinions, including this statement, do not represent those of the HKEJ”.

I believe that these words are Lian’s euphemistic way of conveying his protest and ridicule.

Leung particularly lashed out at Lian for exploiting the health issue of a family member of a government official, but I do believe that, to some extent, all commentaries are aimed at “making an issue” out of certain problems.

Leung noted in the letter that “as chief executive, I respect different opinions”.

But if he really respects others’ opinions, how did he conclude that Lian’s column, which likened what Hongkongers have been going through to his daughter’s ordeal was “for political purposes”?

Leung simply does not have a spark of generosity in his constitution.

He admonished that “keeping family members out of political attacks should be the absolute bottom line of one’s conduct and moral standards. I appeal to the newspaper and Mr. Lian to stop”.

Pushy and overbearing — that’s the only impression one can get from his letter.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 2.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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