Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Lam Seems to Sideline English

Chief Executive Carrie Lam at her media briefing earlier today
As if we need yet another sign that Hong Kong is becoming more of a Chinese city than an international one is that our own leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would rather answer questions in Cantonese than English.

Today at a media briefing before her weekly meeting with the Executive Council, Lam thought she was asked the same question twice, once in Cantonese and moments later in English.

She replied she would answer the question in Cantonese and then in English.

Then Lam told Cathy Chu Man-ling, the director of information services, to consider "a better arrangement".

She should answer in English, Mandarin or Cantonese
"In future, we'd better arrange simultaneous interpretation for this media stand-up, 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 in Cantonese. But in future, the director of information services may consider a better arrangement so that we don't need to waste time," Lam said, before going on to answer the question in English.

The chief executive may have thought the questions were the same, but they are actually different. The first one in Cantonese asked if she would unveil plans for land reclamation during her policy address in October, while the question in English was whether she would take public opinion on the matter into account.

Later Eric Chan Kwok-ki, director of the chief executive's office, explained Lam had no intention of skipping questions in English in future briefings, and had tried to highlight the time-consuming nature of answering questions in several languages.

She was concerned this would prevent the media from having enough time to ask all the questions they had.

"The chief executive is always happy to speak English, and reply to media questions in English when asked in that language," Chan said. "It's only that in Hong Kong, reporters from different backgrounds can speak either Cantonese, Mandarin or English, so she thought that if she needed to repeat answers in all three, time for more questions would be limited."

How long is this question period? Surely it's more than five minutes. And the last we checked English is an official language in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Sounds like Lam was exasperated or was having a bad day -- giving instructions to her information services director in front of the media was downright awkward.

And Lam wasn't listening clearly to realize the two questions on land reclamation were different.

If a question is asked twice but slightly differently, that's because the reporter didn't think the answer was substantive enough the first time and wanted another more comprehensive reply. Surely Lam knows this from answering questions throughout her civil service career!

For Lam to win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers, she needs to answer the media's questions -- no matter what language they are in. We all have a right to ask them in whatever language we want. The way she handled questions today was hardly a step in the right direction in the politically-charged environment we are in...

Post script: After I wrote this blog post, Lam issued a statement in which she "apologized for any confusion thus caused".

Guess it's better late than never...

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