Confessions of a Green

The following is the translation of an essay by Chu Hoi-dick about his experience as a reporter at the WTO MC6.  The essay was posted at InMediaHK.  The importance of this essay is that it shows the restrictions (in terms of physical access as well as domain expertise) that reporters operate under, even though the published reports will not indicate such.

Here is the translation:

Really, I must confess that I don't understand how the WTO works.  For example, on how to join, how to negotiate, how to complain, how is an agreement reached and so on, I only have a 'paper' understanding.  Therefore, when I took one of the extra press pass from my company to become a civilian reporter and walked into the vast Convention Centre, I felt like a country bumpkin entering the big city.

Whether you enter through the street or the pedestrian bridge, the police will check your identification.  The entrance from the street is more dramatic, as you probably think that you are going into the Lai Chi Kok detention center.  After the police verified my identification, I went into the familiar convention centre entrance where the cars drop people off.  This was the where the crowd broke the glass during the Animation Festival.

After I went in through the glass door, I felt that I had just entered a Martian colony.  I remembered that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about the Martian colony, where people have different "understandings" and different people lived in different zones according to different rules.  Many people wear a red badge, many others wear orange badges where I wear a green badge.  People who wear these colors must use different entrances.  The red is the entrance for the official negotiators, the orange is the entrance for the NGOs and the green is the entrance for the media center.  Basically, the red badges can go everywhere.  The green badges cannot go to the places where the red badges are (I did not ask whether they can go to the orange places).  The orange badges can go to the places where the green badges, but they cannot go to the place where the red badges are either.

Therefore, the greens and oranges do not know what the reds are discussing unless they come out and talk.  The reds have come out often to explain what was being discussed.  Over the past few days, we have seen Portman (US representative) and Mandelson (EU representative) pointing fingers on the news.  That came from the press conferences that they held.  I think that there must be at least 20 such publicity/press conferences given by representatives from different countries or blocs (G90, G33, and so on; the WTO supplement of the South China Morning Post has a lot of information and can be used for reference).  The greens hang around these press conferences and then attempt to build a complete picture of the negotiations (using quotations from different representatives as proof seems to belong to the world of inter-textual comparative analyses).

Of course, the WTO conference organizers have other press conferences to provide their version of the picture.  There are two types of press conferences: the press conferences given by WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell or the press conferences given by senior Hong Kong officials lined up in a row.

You can guess that the Hong Kong reporters are focused on the latter asking  Hong Kong police spokesperson Alfred Ma and the official from the Department of Transportation -- "Has anyone been arrested?  What kind of weapon will be used?"  And so Ma could say righteously: "Certain demonstrators must really reflect about themselves."  

Rockwell's press conferences are a completely different matter, for it is like the US State Department ones.  The well-known media greens spoke to Rockwell on a first-name basis: such as Keith, XXXX, YYYY, ZZZZ, "Jonathan, it's your turn" and so on.  When I attended the first such press conference, I really had no idea what he was talking about.  Every sentence usually included technical terms about the trade negotiations, such as "Switzerland formula," "binding," and so on.  I can imagine that these reporters have been following the WTO for many years and therefore totally immersed it.  Hong Kong reporters occasionally ask questions, but they are usually looking for some easily digestible but basically not very meaningful responses.  For example: "Is the present state of the negotiations close to expectations?"  Every day, someone will ask this super-silly question.  After Rockwell's press conference is over, the Hong Kong reporters will gather together in order to "come up with the script (夾口供)".  Since nobody knows much, they try to piece things together collectively.  [Translator's note:  The notion of 夾口供 is that a group of people needed to cover up a crime and so they talked to each to make sure that they tell the same story to the police.  In this case, the Hong Kong reporters are also trying to make sure that tomorrow's stories on the same subject do not vary vastly across the newspapers in town.]

So everybody can see that the news about the WTO conference was basically several big shots speaking across the air.  For example, the United States offered an incredibly complicated proposal on cotton imports, and then another group of big shots immediately said that the United States was trying to divert attention and also offered their own ideas.  The result was that people's attention was turned around and around and they became lost and had no idea what people are saying.  Fortunately, this is a relatively short conference and there will always be one suitable theme: "Will there be a consensus and agreement coming out of the Hong Kong conference?"  But after you ask that question, got the answer and wrote it down, the greens and their readers still have no idea about what has happened.  How will the Doha Development Agenda be considered complete?  What problems still need to be solved?

The thing about the WTO conference is that every discussed topic appears to be new and not previously brought up.  Originally, the focus of the discussion was to be the agricultural subsidies and tariffs that we always talk about.  But it turned out that during the past few days people did not talk much about them (Mandelson said that the focus should not be put on agriculture!).  Instead, people talked about implementing zero tariffs and quotas for the least developed countries.  And then this issue brought up many problems concerning the details.  For example, the United States believe that certain agricultural products in certain least developed countries are quite strong and did not want complete zero tariffs and quotas and therefore came back with another round.

Living in this Martian colony in which everyone seems to advocate precise legal clauses, I forgot that several days ago I was still shouting slogans alongside the South Korean farmers: WTO ga lunminro jigida (WTO kills farmers)!  The conference makes me feel threatened, because I feel that I must read many books and consult a lot of information before I am qualified to speak or even ask questions.  It made me enter a maze of words so I became a disciplined green person -- a green person who cannot enter the red zone.