Comparing Media Coverage of Nancy Kissel and Shum Yo-yin

This is the story of One System, Two Cultures.  The commentary was written by lawyer Cheng Huan, SC, and appeared in East Week magazine (no online link).  The following is a translation.

Recently, there were two shocking criminal cases that created broad resonance in society.  At the same time, they illustrated the effectiveness of the police in handling major criminal cases while under pressure.

I am referring to the case of 7-year-old Shum Ho-yin who was attacked with a chopper in cold blood and the case of the murder of Merrill Lynch managing director Robert Kissel by his wife.  In the case of the deliberate assault, the suspects have been arrested although their ultimate fates are known at this time.  Meanwhile, Robert Kissel's wife Nancy was found guilty of deliberate murder by a 7-person-jury.

These two cases took up a great deal of space in newspapers and time on television.  But the noteworthy thing is that the mainstream Chinese-language newspapers put the news of Mrs. Kissel's trial in secondary positions.  By coincidence, on the day when Nancy Kissel was found guilty, Shum's stepmother was arrested.  The next day, the difference in how these two news items were treated in the newspapers showed the cultural differences within our society.

The sudden break in the case of the assault on the little boy became the headline in all the Chinese-language newspapers.  In the first four pages, Oriental Daily and The Sun both provided detailed coverage of the latest developments as well as the schoolmates visiting Shum at the hospital.  Meanwhile, the life sentence received by Nancy Kissel appeared on page 30 of Oriental Daily and page 10 of The Sun.

It was completely opposite in the English-language newspapers.  In the most prominent part of the front page of South China Morning Post and also in the next three pages, there were detailed descriptions of the Kissel case and information about the family members.  Meanwhile, the case of the little boy appeared at the bottom of the front page and was continued in the City supplement.

As for The Standard, Nancy Kissel also received four pages of coverage.  The arrest of the stepmother of the little boy took up half of page 12.

Murder cases are rare in Hong Kong.  In year 2004, only 45 cases were treated as murder by the police, fewer than the 52 cases in the previous year.  It must be rarer for foreigners to be murdered in this primarily Chinese community -- I even think that Robert Kissel must be the only American to be murdered in Hong Kong in 2003.  Therefore, the English-language press paid a great deal of attention to this case.  A model couple to their friends, the background of the deterioration of their relationship, the dramatic details ... these catered to the taste of the foreigners living here in Hong Kong.  Even though Nancy Kissel's extramarital affair was vulgar, it infused more exciting elements.

Little Ho-yin's case drew outrage from various social strata, since he was very young and completely unable to defend himself during the attack.  According to police figures, there were more than 1,600 assault cases leading to injuries in 2004, and about 5,500 more cases of aggravated assault.  But how many of the victims can we remember?

Due to the differences in race, ethnicity, education and culture, there were different degrees of attention within society to these two cases.  But every Hong Kong person must hope that the real attackers of the little boy will be punished under the law soon.