Stranger than satire and way less compelling|Stephen Vines

Published (HKT): 2021.05.03 09:15

When news first emerged that Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), had added the title of television chat show host to her repertory of roles it was widely assumed that this was some kind of spoof.

Lamentably however satire has little chance of superseding reality in today’s Hong Kong, so the bizarre and frankly incomprehensible often turns out to be reality.

Given that Ms. Lam has the charisma of a ticket collector and the interview skills of someone who has never watched a TV show, the question arises of who on earth deemed this to be a good idea.

No one knows who the mysterious non-entities behind this production are, but we do know that they are pumping out two shows per day, all of which will be aired at least three times.

A strong indication of the total lack of understanding of how to present a television program is reflected in the show’s title, “Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors”. The inspiration for titling of this kind is presumably drawn from a close study of the exciting offerings from television programming in North Korea. One of Pyongyang’s much valued drama series is called “The First Chief of Oil Department”. It gives you an idea of the challenging creativity that goes into these shows.

TV host Lam’s shows are being broadcast on RTHK’s Channel 31. No one at RTHK will admit to being involved in producing this farrago.

The first episode of what is supposed to be an interview program began with a very long monologue from the host, some estimates have it that it went on for hours, but a fact check reveals that it was more like minutes although the fact checker was losing the will to live as the monotone presentation from Superstar Lam dragged on and on and on.

Thrillingly it began with Lam interviewing Wong Yuk-shan, a long time Beijing trustee and National People’s Congress delegate. Amazingly Mr. Wong proved that he could match the Superstar’s capacity to bore.

Next up was Bunny Chan Chung-bun, of the community group, the Kowloon Federation of Associations, a United Front organization that holds glittering celebratory events with an array of the usual suspects in attendance. Mr. Chan daringly suggested that that electoral reforms were not a step backwards for democracy.

A total of 40 interviewees are promised and, as a wild guess, I think it is possible to confidently predict that they will all think that the reforms are necessary, highly popular and just great for putting Hong Kong on the right track.

Each show runs for total of 12 minutes, an amount of time that viewers will treasure, assuming they manage to stay awake to the end and have not thrown anything at their television sets as they drone on.

Given the aggressive way in which these shows are designed to induce numbness and that all guests can be confidently expected to say more or less the same thing, what exactly is the purpose of these shows?

Does born again Television Superstar Lam seriously believe that anyone watching will be transformed from being an election reform sceptic into becoming an avid supporter of abolishing the remnants of a democratic election system? Will the avid opponents of democracy become even more avid after watching Bunny and his friends? More pressingly, after an initial spurt of interest, will anyone be actually watching these shows?

One thing we know about the CENO is that she has an amazing amount of confidence in her own abilities and may actually think that by assuming this new role of TV host she will be able to turn the tide of negative public opinion. If so she has a very large hill to climb.

A recent poll published by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute found that only 18% of respondents had confidence in Lam. In other surveys the level of satisfaction with the CENO shows that no more than a third of the public believe she is doing a good job. So dismal is the public’s view of current circumstances that a majority of young people interviewed in a survey published last week, said they would leave Hong Kong if they could.

The idea that tuning into “Get to Know the Election Committee Subsectors” will turn the tide is fanciful in the extreme. However, it may well be that the CENO has another audience in mind, a very small one located in Beijing where her shoe-shining efforts will be regarded with approval.

As Ms. Lam has repeatedly shown contempt for the views of Hong Kong people, she is unlikely to be concerned over their opinion of her television prowess but there is little doubt that she is very concerned over her prospects of securing a second term as Chief Executive. Boring people to distraction is a small price to pay for this bigger goal of impressing her bosses.

(Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He was the founding editor of ‘Eastern Express’ and founding publisher of ‘Spike’. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse”

Vines’ latest book Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published early next year by Hurst Publishing. He is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium, Market Panic and Food Gurus.)

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