"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
We must ask to what extent unbalanced media coverage is fueling societies divisions?
Lee Fang is a US investigative journalist. At the height of the George Floyd protests, he dared to tweet an interview with a black man expressing concern about black-on-black crimes. Immediately Lee's outraged colleagues at 'The Intercept' judged him guilty of 'thought-crimes'. Then they extracted a written apology and self-criticism. Mao's Red Guards would be proud.
Lee's experience is telling because activist journalists are hi-jacking newsrooms and won't tolerate dissenting voices. The Tom Cotton saga illustrates the point. Cotton, a serving US senator, wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times in June entitled "Send in the Troops". Young staff members at the paper, under the guise of health and safety, objected. They asserted Cotton's views put journalists at risk, although their motivation was more likely to suppress Cotton's opinions.
In response, the New York Times implemented changes. These mean its editorial line is now in the hands of the activists. Along the way, senior staff at the paper have undertaken self-denunciation sessions. And so it came to pass that the Marxist cultural revolution arrived in the US media.
Sometime in 2019, at the height of Hong Kong's social unrest, I started to realise an odd phenomenon. Much of the coverage in the Western press and watched on international TV was out of kilter with events on the ground. In particular, the extreme violence of the protesters went ignored or down-played. But, any action by the police drew considerable attention and a tone of accusation. Often the full sequence of incidents failed to get a mention, giving the impression that police officers acted unprovoked.
As an example, our local channel RTHK spun one story to portray the police as ruining Christmas, but only giving passing mention to the actions of militants throwing petrol bombs.
It's important to note that this is not about lying or manufacturing untruths. Instead, the process is more subtle and akin to the tactics applied in psyops. Experts in manipulating populations know that you can't completely change a person's mind. But by the judicial use of cherry-picked facts, you can skew a narrative. Thus, you feed on people's existing sentiments, stoking them to new heights so that you push a particular outcome.
It's easy to illustrate. You repeat the message that the protests were peaceful and then only show images of the police using force. Tie that to a few interviews alleging police brutality, and bingo, that is the focus. If you can conjure up a so-called 'expert' that's even better.
Meanwhile, the injuries to police officers get ignored. RTHK did this on many occasions.
That the 'China Daily' newspaper tended to provide a balanced account of incidents was perplexing. Surely these Mainland outlets, the mouth-pieces of Beijing, couldn't be trusted? Also 'Russia Today' didn't fall into the rote reporting of the Western media. At first, I took these distortions as unique to the context of Hong Kong with anti-China media twisting the narrative.
Yet, recent events in the US and UK, described above, suggest this is not isolated to Hong Kong. Across the whole of the mainstream media, well-established principles are breaking down. The emerging picture is of journalism losing its way as the entire medium fractures.
In the process, the activists are challenging the old-guard liberals, free-speech journalists, who are fighting a rear-guard action. It all came into sharp focus recently as Covid-19 and the BLM movement acted as a catalyst to widen existing fault-lines that evolved over decades. These fractures are shaking the foundations of the media business with consequences for how people access truth. As with all aspects of life in the postmodern world, the very idea of truth is under threat.
To me, this is alarming. We must ask to what extent unbalanced media coverage is fueling societies divisions? Is this driving polarisation and violence?
As a kid growing up in 1960s/70s UK, the BBC news was a staple and revered. We trusted that Richard Baker and Angela Rippon spoke the truth to us. Rarely would anyone challenge the BBC. That is no longer the case, with its very existence in doubt given many questions over its evident bias in recent years.
We know a sea-change is taking place as de-centralised networked reporting emerges, much of it on social media. Along the way, trust in traditional media outlets dissipates.
Thus, in this period of transition, as the old media crumbles, its replacement is yet to form or be credible — if it ever will. And this is dangerous because, in a complex world, we need clarity. Unfortunately, the institutions that helped provide that clarity are fast fading. We have compromised universities, discredited experts and now a faltering media.
Part of the problem is that the business models that sustained the old media are no longer viable. This week Next Digital, which publishes the 'Apple Daily', reported a full-year loss of US$53 million. In the UK, The Guardian newspaper is begging for donations on the proposition it offers "factual information, and analysis that has authority and integrity." That one makes me laugh.
Meanwhile, there is an ongoing discussion about whether "go woke, go broke" or the reverse "go broke, go woke" is occurring. The former has readers driven away by biased coverage. In the latter, the old-school journalists leave to expose newspapers to the activist reporters. I suspect a bit of both. Also, you can't blame young people for seizing the opportunity to drive change. There is nothing new about this as passionate and full of vim kids, they want to make a difference.
Nevertheless, there is some agreement that in the context of the Western media, the old-school types sought balance and fairness in reporting of events. They adopted a professional approach, anchored in evidence and reliable facts. While, on the contrary, the activists arrive in newsrooms with a campaigning stance plus a willingness to suppress voices they don't believe should be heard. Granted this is an over-simplification, yet its frames the trend.
Of course, you could argue that journalists have always had a bias or an angle, and that's true to an extent. But, these days, when a group of people seize control of a newsroom to dictate the editorial line, you have to agree the situation has escalated.
In the US several notable newsroom rebellions are on record with young reporters sanctioning their seniors. There is anecdotal evidence that RTHK experienced a similar situation until management re-asserted control.
Part of the broader challenge is that people are exercising power through social media that's disproportionate to the merits of their reasoning. What astonishes me is that these threats to free speech do not come from governments. It's a woke-generation seeking to shut down voices. No debate or listening — instead intimidation, exclusion and shut-down. Here's an example — moderate old-school journalist Peter Hitchens greeted by a howling illiberal mob at Oxford University. He needed a police escort to exit the campus.
People enacted the same blind adherence to dogma on Hong Kong's streets during the anti-extradition protests. A few brave souls prepared to stand their ground against the mob were burnt, stoned or beaten unconscious. In response, so-called pro-democracy politicians and their supporters in the West turned a blind eye to these horrors. Then when the violence arrived on their streets, it prompted immediate condemnation without a hint of hypocrisy.
In our complex world, we are running through a dense forest with our eye-sight failing. We need a clear path before a collision with something substantial is inevitable with awful consequences. To get through this transition, first we need clarity, open debate, all voices heard and less bile for holding different views. We may get there, although at the moment the omens are not favourable. So, in the meantime, the grown-ups need to start taking charge in newsrooms.
"J.K. Rowling also displayed a willingness to stand firm in the face of the howling mob."
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is problematic on many levels. Her name for starters. Then you have the lack of representation of dwarfs of colour, plus no cross-gender dwarfs and the patriarchy thing that runs through the story-line. It's got to go.
That’s an opinion expressed on Twitter. There is also talk of banning "Gone with the Wind" and "Zulu" — for the obvious reasons. But Basil Fawlty — "Don't mention the war" — for now, gets a reprieve. Basil is back but with a warning in case you take offence.
Am I the only one who thinks it's all getting a bit bonkers as the puritans of wokeness dictate what we can and can't see, hear and read. And don't you dare complain, or you'll be next. Let me be clear, the awful death of George Floyd raises serious issues, and yet within days the whole saga has degenerated into the puerile.
And nobody comes out of this unscathed. Even that bastion of wokeness The Guardian newspaper may need to shut itself down. John Edward Taylor used the profits from slaves on his cotton plantations to found the paper in 1821. Owen Jones and his mates should be ashamed.
Some of this is playing out through "cancel culture". Before the Internet dominated everything, we had something similar called "sent to Coventry" or the silent treatment. As a kid, this meant ostracised from the group for a perceived infraction. Sometimes this could be distressing, especially during those fragile teenage years. Maybe I'm wrong, but the girls seemed to use this penalty more than the boys. For the guys, a fight would usually resolve the issue, while the girls went in for psychological torture of their victim.
I'm told the term "sent to Coventry" has its origins in the English Civil War. Captured Royalist troops were dispatched to the Parliamentarian jail in Coventry, hence the expression.
The Internet, as it's done with most things, has amplified the whole activity. At school, any impact came limited to a locale, but also because people forgot and soon moved on. These days you have no such luck. The vilification has developed into a full-scale onslaught with trial by the many. It's all recorded and kept ready to regurgitate when another round of bashing is necessary.
Meanwhile, old TV shows, movies, songs, books, statues and anything you can name is up for re-assessment by the self-appointed unwoke finder-generals who stalk the Internet. Their approach is simple: think the way we do, or we will destroy you because you are part of the problem. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, decided to join in. He has appointed himself as judge and jury. His approach action is facing some challenge.
David Walliams and Matt Luke of "Little Britain" fame have had to throw themselves to the ground begging forgiveness for their earlier comedy shows. In the current climate, such genuflecting is compulsory for people in the entertainment industry if they wish to work. But there are notable and compelling exceptions. Ricky Gervais defends his right to offend people and rarely backs down. As he puts it "Just because you're offended, doesn't mean you're right."
J.K. Rowling also displayed a willingness to stand firm in the face of the howling mob. Rowling has repeatedly stood up for women’s rights when she perceives that militant transgender types are seeking to encroach. In June she wrote on Twitter criticising an article's use of the phrase "people who menstruate" instead of saying "women". This all stems from the belief by transgender activists that "men can menstruate", when they can't.
It was awful to watch actors piling in with criticism of Rowling. Daniel Ratcliffe, Harry Potter himself, displayed no loyalty when he jumped on the bandwagon. Actress Noma Dumezweni initially expressed support for Rowling but then changed her stance when the mob went for her — bullying pure and simple, with adults playing. Rowling and Gervais come shielded to a degree by their celebrity status, which confers the ability to get their message across. Ordinary folks have no such options.
But why the fascination with trashing someone for holding a different opinion. The psychologists tell us many factors are play. First, people love to see someone higher in the food-chain fall from grace. In part, this is envy plus an earned self-satisfaction from seeking the moral high-ground.
At a primitive level, as social animals, we all want to be part of the group, because that confers protection and status. When we join in the targetting of an individual, we show our solidarity and that we conform with community standards. The social rewards are immediate and gratifying and the dangers too distant and abstract. "You could be next" does not compute for most people.
Often this is unthinking or rote behaviour. Ultimately, taken to its extreme, it can lead to genocide and other extremes of human responses.
The people on the receiving end of the "cancel culture" can suffer terrible consequences. Careers ruined, relationships gone, and psychological impacts are possible. Caroline Flack was not someone on my radar until she committed suicide in February this year. Flack fell from grace as a TV show presenter following allegations she'd assaulted her boyfriend.
The later social media firestorm ripped through every part of her life, picking apart and dissecting the minutia. Of course, the gutter press joined in the feeding frenzy that led to the poor woman taking her life. That she'd already flagged up her mental health issues didn't cause anyone, including the newspapers, to back off. If anything they revelled in it.
A demonstration of the power of this process came last week. A lady was recorded spitting in the street and verbally insulting people who challenged her. Within a matter of hours, she's identified as a Hong Kong civil servant working for the Government Flying Service. Soon links to her previous public appearances appeared as people set about exposing her conduct as unacceptable in these Covid-19 times. No doubt she now regrets her actions.
During Hong Kong's current troubles, we saw doxxing, the cousin of the "cancel culture”, used to menace officials and police officers. This phenomenon gathered pace when protesters turned up at police officers wedding seeking to disrupt the event.
In the end, the judiciary issued an injunction to protect the data of police officers. It didn't stop the doxxing, but it has consequences for those who dare to challenge the rule of law. These tools of intimidation work both ways. In Hong Kong, it didn't take long for pro-government types to expose their opponents. Those who'd joined the online shaming found themselves suddenly on the receiving end. As I've said before, once you deploy a weapon be ready for it to come back your way because purges tend to rebound with unforeseen consequences.
In the West, there are signs that the silent majority of the population will not continue to accept the unfounded labels and claims thrown at them. Politicians responding to online trends need to remember that people are far from cowed in the voting booth, as Hillary Clinton and Britain's Labour Party found. Simply put, people won’t imbibe on the idea they have some kind of historical guilt.
"Never has the term 'God's waiting room' been so poignant."
One in ten residents of UK care-homes has died either directly or because of conditions created by the Covid-19 response. That's 16,000 people, mainly old folks. And that's a national disgrace.
This unseen catastrophe is now emerging into the public domain. Instead of fixating on the antics of Dominic Cummings and his ill-advised road trip, would it not serve the public interest more if journalists had focused their attention on care-homes? Cummings consumed much of the media oxygen in recent weeks, while the old suffered. Was that the aim? Has Cummings proved a useful distraction that the journalists fell for?
Back in March, estimates of the extra Covid-19 deaths likely to hit the UK ranged from 50,000 to 500,000 in a year. The herd immunity approach envisaged a death toll near the upper figure of 500,000 with 7.9 million people needing hospitalisation. Then Boris Johnson's government panicked. In a flash, the herd immunity policy is gone, and a lock-down came in. In preparation for an expected surge of Covid-19 admissions, the NHS emptied its wards of sick older people, sending them to care-homes.
At that time, even before the lock-down started, 801 care-homes already had Covid-19 cases. Then in the first two weeks of the lock-down, a further 1,800 care homes in England alone reported outbreaks.
Without PPE for staff or residents, and many homes running with only 60% manning, a disaster was looming. Yet nothing was done. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, we knew that a good many care-homes operated below par. Under-funded, under-staffed and inadequate to meet the needs of chronic patients, the risks were evident.
It's now known that many residents died of dehydration. These vulnerable people, with memory loss, unsupervised and unvisited by relatives, forgot to drink. With existing medical conditions and isolated from families, they soon lapsed. Never has the term 'God's waiting room' been so poignant.
By contrast, Hong Kong care-homes keep three months supply of PPE on site. Family visits continued, with masks worn and temperatures checked. You have to recognise that having family come in helps relieve the staff and ensures residents are not neglected. Hong Kong had no care-home Covid-19 outbreaks.
Meanwhile, the NHS beds were empty. The NHS Nightingale hospital, built at high speed and with much buzz, was soon mothballed. When the future inquiry sits to consider the UK government's response, the treatment of people in care-homes will make for uncomfortable deliberations.
Likewise, the decision to go for a full lock-down needs re-examining. If, as Boris claims, the UK has been 'following the science every step of the way' - what was Hong Kong, South Korea and other places doing? What science did they have at hand? Many jurisdictions opted for either no lock-down or a partial lock-down, and they attained better outcomes. We must ask that question.
Estimates suggest the lock-down caused 150,000 deaths, including 60,000 missed cancer diagnoses because the NHS shut down everything to focus on Covid-19. When my Mum turned up at her local outpatients for an emergency test, she found the staff unoccupied and idling. The place was empty.
With 298,315 Covid-19 cases as of 16th June and 41,821 deaths, the UK is sitting at the lower end of predicted fatalities. Thus the predicted half-million deaths now appears unlikely. However, had care-homes taken adequate precautions that figure would be substantially lower.
Experts are now forecasting awful consequences across a range of ailments because tests, treatments and operations faced suspension. We know that pandemic planning is a numbers game — a cruel numbers game at that. Yet the people lost to the virus must be balanced against the impact of a cure across the wider population.
Thus, while I'm critical of Boris and his team, I must reserve some sympathy because I wouldn't want to be in the decision-making chair. And for that reason, any inquiry must focus on learning lessons, instead of splattering everyone with blame. After all, the public can decide at the ballot box whether they wish to punish Boris.
On the bright side, the daily number of cases and deaths is easing, although the potential for a second wave is there. Some economies will recovery faster than others. Also, evolution is acting to make the virus less virulent. Viruses struggle to survive, like all living things, and if it kills the hosts, the chances of passing on the virus get reduced. That's why Ebola never manages to spread far. It kills off people; thus, a simple containment strategy and isolation defeats it.
Over time, Covid-19 strains that are less virulent will emerge as triumphant to loiter in the human population. On a more troubling note, you could argue that the lock-down prevents evolution from acting to our benefit. By confining people to locations that allow rapid transmission — such as care-homes — the virus can thrive and move on. That's something for the scientists to ponder once all the data is in.
In the meantime, wash your hands, practice social distancing and wear a mask — yes, I was wrong about masks—Mea culpa.
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” - 1984 by George Orwell.
This pulling down statues business intrigues me. Setting aside that judging figures from history by today's woke standards is not a sensible idea, scratch the surface on most so-called heroes, and a complex picture emerges. Let's take a look at a few. Warning — nobody comes out of this with a clean rap sheet.
The bloke who wrote "Give peace a chance" didn't give his spouses much 'peace' with his regular beatings. Both Yoko Ono and Cynthia Lennon suffered at the hand of Lennon's violent abuse. This brutal side of Lennon was on show during his time in Hamburg when he'd attack drunks or others who'd offended him. Lennon would back off when faced with a tough opponent but was happy to kick the shit out of the vulnerable. Later, his treatment of his son Julian Lennon didn't earn John much credit. Lennon was absent, distant and often stoned, leaving his son abandoned.
How about the Saintly Mother Teresa? Surely beyond rebuke! The popular image is of a poor, cash-strapped nun trawling the streets of Calcutta, rescuing sick, abandoned children to offer them loving care. Yet, along comes Christopher Hitchens with 'The Missionary Position' to expose something much less palatable.
Mother Teresa is documented as having diverted vast sums donated to her clinics to push missionary work instead of buying medication for her dying patients. In truth, you could argue the sick kids were her bait to generate donations. The medical care she provided was lacking despite the millions of dollars people gave her.
Her patients were sometimes left to die in agony, while she jetted off in first-class to deal with dodgy regimes and take their money stolen from ordinary folk. It turns out her clinics leveraged pain and misery. She then syphoned the cash off. Also, former members of her order describe baptisms of the dying performed without their consent. In short, she ran a death cult.
Gandhi, he must be kosher? You know, the little fellow walking around in a bed-sheet preaching passive resistance. He lamented many things, including that Indians were considered "little better than savages or the Natives of Africa." Thus he sponsored a bill to make Indians superior to blacks under South Africa's apartheid system. A bit racist, you may think. Plus, he appeared to enjoy sleeping naked with underage girls. He claimed this was a 'test' of his will-power. Honest, your Honour. You don't hear that spoken about in polite company.
When Kasturba, Gandhi's wife, came down with pneumonia, he denied her penicillin, even though doctors said it would cure her. He insisted the new medicine was an alien substance her body should not take in. She succumbed to the sickness and died in 1944. Later, when he fell sick, he had no such qualms. Lovely man.
Doctor Martin Luther King - he must be clean; after all, he has a PhD. When people discovered that this politician had a PhD from Boston University, his words carried more weight. Unfortunately in 1991, a Boston University committee found he'd plagiarised much of his dissertation. They advised against revoking the late Dr King's credentials. They did, however, place on record a summary of their findings. Add to that his public affairs with young women in his movement, and a picture emerges of a much more complex man.
Nelson Mandela? Mandela indeed rose to greatness. Freed after 27 years in a South African jail, the anti-apartheid fighter emerged calling for healing. He negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid and practised reconciliation. In this, he was great. A healer. None of that should whitewash from history his use of violence early in his career. Mandela is on record as suggesting cutting off the noses of blacks deemed collaborators with whites.
Thus the verdict is in. John Lennon was a wife-beater and a crap dad. Mother Teresa, a religious fanatic who ran a death cult, Gandhi was a racist with dodgy sleeping habits, while Dr Martin Luther King cheated on his PhD. Do these folks deserve a statue? Just asking.
And that brings me to my main point. Most of our heroes come with flaws; some have deep flaws. In 20 years will the post-modernists and the social justice warriors be pulling down statues of Gandhi, John Lennon and Mother Teresa? Probably because this is a beast that eats its own tail. Let's face it, nothing is ever straightforward, and no one is 100% clean.
Lastly, if we are to remove statues and whitewash history, why stop with statues, let do the books next. It is a terrible shame we don't have any lessons from history to guide us once this process starts.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.