When a reporter becomes news on social media

July 23, 2019 14:31
RTHK reporter Nabela Qoser (inset) confronts Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her officials over the violent incident at the MTR station in Yuen Long on Sunday. Photo: Reuters/Internet

A lady reporter from public broadcaster RTHK became the talk of the town – or rather, of local social media – when she confronted Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and accused her of not doing enough to stop the violence against people protesting against her now-suspended extradition bill.

The incident took place during a news conference that Lam called on Monday afternoon to condemn the violence that has marred many of the recent protests against the legislative proposal.

Flanked by senior members of her governance team, the Hong Kong leader deplored, in particular, the Sunday night attack on Beijing's Liaison Office in Sai Ying Pun, where young protesters defaced the walls and signs at the gate of the compound with paint and graffiti.

The chief executive also expressed shock at the attack by white-clad men armed with metal pipes on protesters and journalists at the MTR station in Yuen Long that night. She promised a thorough investigation.

But what looked like another run-of-the-mill government briefing turned into something more when RTHK reporter Nabela Qoser took the floor and, in rapid-fire fashion, took Lam and her officials to task over the Yuen Long incident, which she described as a "terrorist attack".

She didn't actually accuse Lam and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung of anything as she formulated her outburst in the form of questions.

She asked the chief executive: "Where were you last night?" 

Hong Kong-born Qoser, who can speak Cantonese as well as any other local, recalled that when protesters stormed the Legislative Council on the night of July 1st, Lam didn't wait for the break of day and called a press conference at 4 a.m. to assail the incident.

So why the longer interval between the attack at Yuen Long and the condemnation by Lam this time around? "Did you learn about it only this morning? Were you able to sleep well last night?" 

The police chief started to utter something, but the reporter cut him short and asked that the chief executive be the one to answer her question. She noted that many people were not able to sleep at all last night.

Qoser, a graduate of Baptist University who formerly worked with TVB and Ming Pao, also cited Lam's remark a while back that "violence begets violence". Turning it around, she asked if the Yuen Long incident was, in fact, a fulfillment of that statement, that the police and the triad gangs were trying to teach the protesters a lesson.

Other reporters began firing their own questions, such as what was foremost in the minds of many Hongkongers, namely, why did the police show up only after the white-shirt thugs had fled?

Qoser also asked why the 30,000-strong police force, which has gained world renown for its efficiency and professionalism, failed to obtain intelligence about what was to happen in Yuen Long, when the internet was all abuzz days ago that something like that would take place.

When Lam sensed that she could no longer answer questions formulated the way they were, she cut the press conference short and left in a huff with her officials.

The RTHK reporter may not exactly be held up as a paragon of a dispassionate and impartial journalist, but her aggressive behavior during the news conference, a recording of which went viral on social media, won her a lot of kudos from netizens.

If there is anything that this "clash at the presser" can tell us, it is that the rifts in society will take some time to heal. 

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EJ Insight writer