Spike today has a piece about the current row over an allegedly racist article by local commentator Chip Tsao in HK Magazine. For those who haven't kept up, the Philippines government took exception to a sentence in which Tsao described Filipinos as "a nation of servants", and banned him from entry to the Philippines. Local domestic helpers have become equally overwrought about it and plan a demonstration to condemn him, even though he has already apologised.
As Spike says, the article was clearly satirical, and the magazine's editor should have defended its columnist instead of caving in to pressure by publishing an apology. However, while this may be correct in principle, I think it over-simplifies the matter.
Both Mr Tsao and HK magazine have a considerably larger, and probably more diverse, readership than the small coterie of Hong Kong expat bloggers like ourselves, Fumier, and Ulaca who trade in-jokes online. While it is clear that Tsao intended his piece as satire, the subtleties of saying one thing and implying another are often lost on those for whom English is a second language. For this reason, writers and editors need to take particular care to ensure their intentions are not misunderstood in a multicultural community such as Hong Kong.
I remember some years ago submitting a satirical article on how not to get a job to a local recruitment magazine, based on my years of experience in recruiting IT staff for a major bank. The article - which contained such valuable advice as "leave unexplained gaps in your CV" and "remember not to sign your cover letter" - was accepted, but only after the editor turned it around into a straight article on how to get a job, on the basis that the humour would be lost on the intended audience.
Even if HK's editor believed the intent was clear, there is another problem - once someone influential misinterprets such an article, most of those who subsequently get heated up about it have never read the original piece, only someone else's distorted version of it. Once matters reach this stage, there is little anyone can do except wait for the fuss to blow over - and in Mr Tsao's case, plan to take his next beach holiday in Thailand!