Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Freedom and Control

I was watching Newsline on Sunday. I have come to really like that program in a perverse sort of way. It is a perverse pleasure because it almost does not matter who Michael Chigani has as his guest. If they are a government official, civil servant, legco member or the permanent-under-secretary-to-the-temporary-over-secretary for this or that government department I already know their answer. It is always the same. The words change but in essence they always say:
1. "You can't blame me for that!"
2. "We are very concerned."
3. "That is a problem that needs more study."
4. "Of course I'm worth what I'm paid."
5. "mumble-mumble-mumble, ergotaetoticsylibolicdiatribic national pride, mumble growl, sub vocalization, We're all Chinese. Now you see what I mean, don't you?"

Sunday was no different. Two legco members supposedly on opposite sides of an issue and they agreed with each other most of the time. How can you disagree if you accept each other's points? The question at hand was whether or not Hong Kong could use a 3rd broadcast television station. They yakked about it for 30 minutes and then the news came on so I could get the sports scores.

Here is the deal. Both of these guys were saying how IF and it seemed to be a big if another television license was granted then the government should make good and sure that the new station did not simply become a better or worse version of TVB and ATV.
Both want the new new station to reach out "minority interest" in Hong Kong and to raise the cultural level of the city.

I sometimes think that the reason my Chinese wife does not let me wear shoes in the house is so that I won't throw them at the TV. This was one of those moments where the stupidity, and foggy thinking of the self-perceived governmental elite is just so ignorant that they deserve to have something thrown at them.

If these hotentots want to ensure that "minority interest" are being represented on TV then they should advocate allowing 8 or 10 more television station to operate in Hong Kong. Think about it. What would happen if they took the same line towards restaurants? Then these dim-bulb legislators would say things like "You can't open another noodle shop! You have consider the needs of the minority diets. You have to open an organic vegetarian Halal eatery instead." To say that it is the governments' responsibility to regulate minority programming on TV is exactly the same thing as saying what type of restaurant a chef can open. Neither is the purview of a bureaucracy. More than that there is a distinct whiff of snobbery in the idea that a TV station or any entertainment should raise a cultural level. Why is classical music any more "cultural" than canto-pop? Just because someone with a degree from HKU says so don't make it so. I get really worked up about this because it is simply one level of society, normally the level with more money trying to force its values on those without. Faugh! Stuff you Pavarotti CD's up where the sun doesn't shine. That is not to say that there is not value in opera. Just don't make me listen to it.

Before moving here I lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Coincidently that metropolitan area is about the same population as Hong Kong those much larger geographically. There are 18 broad cast television stations there. They are in three languages and most are 24 hours. There are stations that cater to Hispanics, to Blacks, to sports fans, to a religious audience, online shopping (That would be big here) and everything in between. They all make money or there would not be so many. It also isn't as though cable isn't available and various satellite dish systems are ubiquitous as well. Holy Cow, I can get more Chinese language TV stations through cable TV in Dallas than I can in Hong Kong!

So, question, if the DFW area with a population of 6.3 million people can support 18 full power free to air TV stations and probably well over 100 radio stations then why does HK have only two and a largely empty radio dial?

One of the guest on Sunday, I have forgotten which one touched on the answer. It is a matter of control. Despite the cries of "Self Censorship" that are raised occasionally here the real issue is government control. Because there are fewer outlets for news and opinion, the government has an easier time controlling what the population thinks about various issues. Imagine how much easier time Barrak Obama would have had if the US democratic party could control talk-radio in the US? However, an easier time does not necessarily mean better and that is true whether you agree with BO or not. Part of living in a free society means that the government allows people to voice their disagreement. Neither the British colonial government or the current Chinese sponsored fascist government wants to be disagreed with. So, the government in Hong Kong does not really want that many more media outlets. They'd lose control. They'd have to be responsive to the needs, and will of the citizens.

I'd also be willing to bet real money that TVB and ATV don't really compete any more than Wellcome and Park-n-Shop. The two TV stations here probably like their semi-monopoly. This would be especially true of ATV because it does not really compete with TVB in revenue. However, it is easier to keep taking the governments money than find an audience.

So, should Hong Kong allow another broadcaster to launch a television station? The answer is "No." The government should let as many as want to launch television stations, start them.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who watches TV

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