Wed, Nov 01, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Jiang shows the monster in mirror

By Rick Chu 朱立熙

In the free world, the most precious function of the media is to serve as a mirror that reveals monsters, so they have nowhere to hide. Politicians who are good with the media always show the cameras their best side to win the audience's heart, while those politicians who are not so good with the media inevitably become laughingstocks. Sometimes they do not even know when they have been caught in an awkward position.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) performance before the Hong Kong media last Friday deserves to be called his millennial farewell piece. Railing at the journalists seems to have given Jiang deep satisfaction, while his demonic face gave people something to laugh at.

Seen in the light of politician-media interaction in Western democracies, the questions posed by the reporters were neither shallow nor childish. On the contrary, it was Jiang who appeared that way. His response showed his limited understanding of democracy and press freedom.

The reason behind Jiang's international media gaffes -- such as telling his hosts during a visit to Scandinavia that they "do not know how to rule;" venting his spleen at the audience on a visit to Waseda University in Japan; and now screaming at Hong Kong reporters -- is his ignorance of democracy and a megalomania that is the result of a subconscious inferiority complex.

In communist countries where there is no press freedom, the media serves the government, and journalists -- like diplomats -- must serve as harbingers and propagators of government policies. They cannot wantonly ask questions like the Hong Kong reporters did. Given Jiang's understanding of how the media should function, a challenging interview is no doubt unacceptable.

Jiang would not have exploded in such a manner if he understood press freedoms, or if the procedure for SAR Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's (董建華) re-election was democratic. In fact, his diatribe and baring of fangs has worsened the impression of him in Hong Kong.

Even more laughable is the fact that after Jiang was done with his shouting, Tung told the reporters the president was only giving them "kind encouragement and a critique" -- words that fit perfectly with his role as Beijing's lap dog.

Hong Kong's pro-China media and scholars also lashed out the next day, echoing Jiang's words that local journalists are of "poor quality." Such criticism is as spineless as the Hong Kong media's self-censorship a few years before China's 1997 takeover of the territory.

It would be the greatest irony for Beijing's "one country, two systems" if the Hong Kong media bows to Beijing's browbeating. Only when China's leaders have cultivated some understanding of democracy and press freedom, and have learnt how to interact with the media can we expect true democracy in that country. As long as these Soviet-educated country bumpkins are in power, we can be sure that there is no hope for such improvements.

Rick Chu is editor in chief of the Taipei Times.

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