Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yeut-ngor said her media interactions ahead of Executive Council meetings will continue to be conducted as per established practice, with questions from reporters taken in Cantonese as well as English.
Reacting to a controversy over her perceived impatience with the English media, Lam stressed in a statement late Tuesday that there is no question of her or the administration according less importance to the use of English when it comes to official briefings.
She also said she was sorry if some comments she made earlier in the day during a media briefing caused confusion on the language issue for official communications.
The statement came after Lam faced criticism over her seeming unhappiness with a reporter who posed a question in English ahead of the weekly ExCo meeting on Tuesday.
During the media session, Lam was asked two questions in Cantonese about Hong Kong’s land supply issue.
Answering in Cantonese, the chief executive said the government needs to address the issue of land supply to meet citizens’ demand for housing, stressing that she has no intention to influence discussions on land supply options amid a public consultation.
Lam refuted criticism that she and her administration don’t have the determination to ease the city’s housing woes. Referring to the land reclamation option, she said that there has been a very strong aspiration for the government to respond to the question as to where the land will come from.
Later, an RTHK reporter posed a similar query in English, but Lam seemed not too happy about it, suggesting that it is a waste of time as she has to say the same thing in English when she has already provided the answer in Cantonese, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
“Well, I think in future we’d better arrange simultaneous interpretation for this media standup because I keep on repeating the answers… I have answered exactly the same question in Cantonese, so I’m going to repeat what I said,” the chief executive said.
“But in future, the Director of Information Services may consider a better arrangement so that we don’t need to waste time,” she added, before responding to the reporter’s query in English.
The comments led to suspicions among some observers that Lam may be seeking to sideline the English language in media interactions.
As an official language in Hong Kong, English is usually used alongside Chinese for all major communication by the government.
Chan Kwok-ki, Director of the Chief Executive’s Office, explained later in the afternoon to media that what Lam really meant was she did not want to take up the time that might otherwise be used for reporters to raise other questions in such a session.
By “waste of time”, Lam was referring to media time that could be used better, and not the chief executive’s time being wasted, the official said.
The arrangement whereby the chief executive will answer a question in the same language used by a media personnel will stay unchanged, Chan said.
Despite Chan’s defense of Lam, the Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed deep concern over the chief executive’s remarks.
Lam displayed a contemptuous attitude when she was asked a question in English, the association said, calling on the chief executive to retract her remarks and make it clear that the administration does not intend to denigrate English media.
In a statement, the association pointed out that English media outlets and reporters need to ask questions in English to better serve an international audience.
Following the criticism, Lam issued a statement shortly before midnight, stressing that she has been answering questions in the language in which they are asked — be it Cantonese, Putonghua or English — in all her media sessions, and that she will continue to do so.
While defending herself and apologizing for causing any confusion, Lam promised to keep the existing arrangement unchanged in relation to the format of the pre-ExCo meeting media sessions.
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