22 September 2019
Students should be allowed to express their views freely without having to worry about the consequences of what they say. Photo: Reuters
Students should be allowed to express their views freely without having to worry about the consequences of what they say. Photo: Reuters

Don’t use students for propaganda

The Federation of HK Guangxi Community Organizations recently organized a summer study tour to the United States, and during the interview, the applicants, who were mainly secondary school students, were asked to give their views on the political reform package for the 2017 election.

After the interview, a video clip showing seven applicants speaking in favor of the reform was uploaded to the internet.

Some of the schools to which those applicants belong immediately issued statements saying the federation had assured that the clip was for internal reference only, and expressing grave concern about its unilateral release of the video clip without the consent of the students, who were distressed after their identities were made public.

The federation has made at least two mistakes. 

First, the education sector has always stuck to the basic principle that education and politics must be clearly separated, and students must never be used as a political tool under whatever circumstances.

What makes people outrageous is that the federation deliberately used the innocent students as propaganda tools to pitch the political reform proposal. In fact, it is already unacceptable to ask students to publicly take sides on political issues, not to mention having their interviews recorded and then publicizing them without their consent.

Secondly, what the federation did was a complete violation of the personal privacy of the students. We all know that an interview is always sensitive, whether it is for a job or for school enrollment, and the privacy of the interviewees must be protected at all times.

Asking interviewees to express their political views and then publicizing them is unfair to them and constitutes a serious infringement of personal privacy.

Moreover, students might not have had a choice but to agree to record the interviews on video because a refusal could have jeopardized their chance of landing a place in the study tour.

Although the federation has already apologized and removed the video from the internet, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data should still look into the case to find out whether the federation has lied to the students about the way they would handle the video clip.

If it is confirmed that the federation deliberately misled or even lied to them, then it must be held accountable.

It is very rare for schools to issue public statements, and some of the school principals told me that they did so in order to protect their students from further attacks and bullying, and I hold them in high regard because they are devoted educators who always have their students’ best interests at heart.

With the summer vacation upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to urge my fellow teachers and parents to stay vigilant against any attempt to mislead or use our students for political purposes.

It is definitely our responsibility to protect our children from any privacy infringement and being used as a political tool.

I also want to talk a bit about cyberbullying.

The students whose videotaped interviews were published are in distress not only because their privacy has been infringed, but also because they have become the victims of a subsequent online “witch-hunt” and cyberbullying.

Although the indignation of the netizens might be understandable, their actions against those students are hardly justified.

Recently I was invited to a mock Legco debate on political reform organized by secondary school students.

During the debate most students spoke against the government’s reform proposal, while some of them spoke in favor of it, but the debate went on smoothly, and everyone got a chance to express their views freely.

I remember during the debate one of the students used a metaphor, in which he said he asked his father to buy him a pair of sneakers for jogging, but instead his father only bought him a pair of slippers, and he preferred not to have them because they were not exactly what he wanted.

However, some students argued that having a pair of slippers was at least better than being barefooted.

It might not be a good metaphor for political reform but at least it came from the genuine thoughts of students, and therefore deserves respect from teachers.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental value of our society, under which everyone should enjoy the right to express their views freely without having to worry about the consequences of what they have spoken.

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 14.

[Chinese version 中文版]

Translation by Alan Lee

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Legislative Council member from the education sector