Discussions on Civilian Journalism

This is a translation of a report (at InMediaHK) from Chu Hoi-dick (also see his previous An Interim Report On Civilian Journalism) based upon his personal observations.

I and several civilian reporters joined the Gloucester Road sit-in crowd last night at around 8pm.  The police net was already tight and thus began a "detention" of more than 10 hours.

The Gloucester Road assembly was conducted peacefully.  The South Korean and Hong Kong students and other demonstrators got on the stage to share their views, with the most attention being given to a 13-year-old Hong Kong secondary school student.  He told us about how he faced the police water hose and pepper spray at various places during the march yesterday, and he wanted the police uncles to make way for the demonstration to go on.

On the cold and windy Gloucester Road, rumors abounded.  Long Hair announced just past 10 o'clock that according to an anonymous source, the WTO conference has just been aborted.  People were happy, they sang, they danced and pronounced the victory of people power.  But it was proven later that the so-called abortion was a rumor.  But other than saying a few curse words, we had no energy to be disappointed or seek clarification.

Many of us got all wet from the water hoses in the afternoon, caught pepper spray in the eyes, and then breathed in tear gas (that is a misnomer: the most fearful thing about tear gas is not the tears but the fact that one cannot breathe; I and two other civilian journalists were overwhelmed by the terror of suffocation).  It was obvious that the demonstration at Gloucester Road was not going to be very drastic, but what is the use?  The goal of the police was obviously not to disperse the crowd, but to punish the crowd and take it out on them.

The Hong Kong police often has this attitude for revenge.  For example, just after 4pm, the group of civilian journalists hurried over to the Wanchai north demonstration area.  We hoped to stop the police from using force on the demonstrators.  Although we were just shouting slogans and holding banners, we were hosed with chemical-laced water.  Later on, we found that just after 3pm, there was a big fight and a police officer standing on the concrete block fell down and passed out (present condition unknown).  At the time, the police broke the taboo and started to use the water hoses.  Once they started, they could not stop.

By the time that we arrived at the demonstration area, the police had no need to use the water hoses anymore.  (I believe that) this was totally and completely to take revenge.  But I believe that the police used excessive force and the blocking of the road towards the Marsh Road overpass was the reason why the situation deteriorated (it remains to be sorted out whether the blocking of the road to the Marsh Road overpass caused the demonstrators to disperse or whether the demonstrators had planned beforehand not to follow the designated route and find some alternate way to approach the Convention Centre).

It was now past eleven o'clock at night.  People were wondering when the scene was going to be cleared.  The police began to call for Hong Kong residents to leave the scene.  Anyone with a Hong Kong ID can leave.  From that time, some people began to leave.  Those who did not leave wanted to witness the police action when they clear the scene and they hoped that the police would not do anything rash.  At the time, everybody was tired, hungry and thirsty.  We did not even have dinner yet.  We just crowded together and lied down together.

From 1230am to past 100am, we had a song-and-dance show to cheer everybody up.  More Hong Kong residents left.  At 200am, the reporters said that the police would clear the scene between 210am and 220am.  The police warned the reporters to stay on the pedestrian overpass if they wanted to gather news (properly speaking, they wanted the reporters to leave the scene or else they would also be arrested and be held responsible).  Some civilian reporters decided to withdraw, but the police gave them a hard time (there were numerous such instances) but they managed to leave in the end.

After another 40 minutes, the police announced around 3am that those present at the scene were involved in an illegal assembly and violated Public Security Regulations Article 18, and were therefore being placed under arrest.  The police said: "There is no need to be afraid.  We will take you away one at a time to the detention center.

The police were able to call in several dozen large transport vehicles at 6pm or 7pm in the evening to bring in several thousand police officers to surround Gloucester Road.  But the most ridiculous thing was from 3am onwards when they said that they wanted to arrest the demosntrators and take them to Kwun Tong police station, there were only two "school buses" (I only saw two school buses at a time).

The demonstrators were basically cooperative.  They let the police take them onto the buses . They slowly line up in a long queue and waited.  But no matter how long the queue was, there were only two "school buses."  There were not many South Korean demonstrators.  My estimate is that there were fewer than 500, but the police insisted on using the speed of "water drip" to take them away.  

Through waiting from 7pm last night all the way past 5am this morning, I cannot help but come to his conclusion -- the police did not have as its goal the quick dispersal of the demonstrators.  They wanted to take collective punishment on the demonstrators.  They wanted them to wait in the cold and suffer hunger and thirst without end, just as they used the water hoses to take revenge on the demonstrators who were not charging at them on yesterday afternoon.

The South Korean friends have great endurance.  At 5am, the police who let the demonstrators go unfed and without any sanitary provisions (people just did it on the street) brought in a few cases of biscuits and water.  The police seemed to have forgotten that we had not eaten last night and therefore it was a big present to send us breakfast.  Some impatient demosntrators kicked the biscuits aside.  I had no strength left to be angry and I ate a couple of biscuits.

At past 5am, I could not stand it and I left, leaving civilian reporter Bobo behind.  I called her again at 910am this morning.  She said that there were still more than 200 demonstrators at the scene.  Between 6am and 9am, not another "school bus" came.  Yet, the South Korean friends that we have come to love and hate over the past few days once again exhibited their spirit for cleanliness and collected all the garbage in the Gloucester Road assembly area.

I am afraid that the people might think that they stayed at Gloucester Road and refused to leave, thus interfering with the daily lives of our citizens (although the disruption of our daily lives can cause us to reflect, like during the SARS period).  This was not the case, because the police use delaying methods to prevent the demonstrators from leaving even though they knew that the demsontrators had no intention to starting violent resistance again (the reader may question why I am so certain; my conviction comes from observing the South Korean demonstrators over the past week -- they are organized and disciplined).  The police wanted to continue to push them onto the opposite side of the citizens and make them into a violent mob (in my eyes, they are a team and not a violent mob).

I know that after the storm yesterday, public opinion will lean over to smirch the South Korean demonstrators.  The "mob" meme will emerge again.  Civilian reporter Bobo said that when she was interviewed by Radio Hong Kong this morning, the host "objectively" expressed dissatisfaction with InMediaHK's criticisms of the conduct of the Hong Kong police and asked Bobo (who was stuck at Gloucester Road) if she "could see the other side (the host was sitting in the studio and thinks that he can see everything).

Haven't we seen enough of the media reversing course over the past few days?  One month before the WTO conference started, they labeled the South Korean groups as violent mobs.  On December 13, they proclaimed "The Korean War Has Started" to confirm their own "predictions."  After the South Korean friends used "Three Steps, One Kowtow" to demonstrate, the "violent mob" suddenly became "Jewel of the Palace."  But today, the opinion will be to reconfirm once against that the original position was correct.  The violent mob was a violent mob, and this conclusion will be the theme for the reports.

This kind of reversal by the media is in my opinion due to the fact that people are unwilling to face a fact -- the South Korean organizations came here to win the struggle, unlike the traditional habit in Hong Kong of just expressing their opinions.  During the process of the struggle, different people have different roles and use different tactics, including the tactic of challenging the daily routines.  

From the past few days, they obviously set certain bottom lines for their actions in Hong Kong.  One, they will not hurt the citizens.  Two, they will not loot or vandalize businesses.  Three, they do not want to cause severe damage to the police.  Even in yesterday's riot, which was the largest over the past few days, the most extreme action that the South Korean organizations took was to use poles and steel barriers to ram against the police.  They did not use the much more destructive petrol bombs.  Let us not forget that the police were equipped with large shields, helmets and truncheons.  According to Apple Daily, as of 10pm last night, 56 local and overseas demonstrators were injured versus 5 police officers.  The two seriously injured persons were not police (I ask, how did they get injured).

I know that my speech would be accused of advocating the use of force.  I don't want any more digression on this matter.  But we cannot deny that there are armed resistance in many places around the world, and it is an important issue as to how the authorities deal with it.  A Taiwan friend at the scene said that the Hong Kong police are stupid: in Taiwan, even if the police has surrounded the demonstrators, they will always leave an opening for those who wish to leave.  The Hong Kong police sealed off all exits and kept in all those friends from Taiwan and Hong Kong who wish to leave ...

Here is the first comment to Chu Hoi-dick's post: "You call yourself a 'journalist'? Do you know what objectivity means? This is the most biased piece of reporting I've ever read."

Okay, so let us see what objectivity is.  Here is the standard of mainstream professional media reporting (Associated Press):

Hundreds of protesters broke through police lines and came close to storming into the WTO's meeting venue Saturday, but security forces scattered the crowd with tear gas.  A government statement said 70 people -- including 10 police -- were sent to hospitals for treatment and three of them were admitted.

Police Commissioner Dick Lee said police have detained 900 people and were determining whether to formally arrest them. "If necessary we will make arrests. We will not let them go easily," he said.

After the violent protest, about 300 to 400 people held a sit-in for several hours on one of the busiest streets in central Hong Kong. But early Sunday, police told the demonstrators that they would be arrested and began dragging them away and loading them in buses.

Security forces spent much of the afternoon fighting running street battles with the protesters, who included South Korean farmers, Southeast Asian groups and activists from Europe and America.  The protesters hit police with bamboo sticks and used a metal barrier to ram a line of officers armed with riot shields. The police fought back with clubs, pepper spray and water cannons that shot water mixed with a chemical that burned the skin and eyes.

Police used the tear gas just minutes after Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee went on television and warned the public to stay away from the area.  "The police will take robust action to dispel these illegal and violent actions," Lee warned.

The tear gas dispersed the protesters and the police were able to retake the area around the convention center.  Lee Sang-jeong, a South Korean farmer, said, "Hong Kong police are violent. I had no weapon, only my body."

The AP report may be fair and balanced (quotes from Dick Lee and Ambrose Lee on one side and South Korean farmer Lee Sang-jeong on the other side) but it leaves me stone cold personally.  It may be fair and balanced, but it has no depth.  So maybe Chu Hoi-dick could not be fair and balanced, because his observations came right from the middle of the illegal Gloucester Road assembly and he was at the receiving end of the chemical-enhanced water hosing as well as the tear gas.  Given where he was, could he (and should he) be also reporting on what the Lees were saying by parroting press conference comments?

The truly objective report would require information from several more parties:

But we are not getting that, are we?  So should we suppress Chu Hoi-dick's piece because the other parties are not talking?