Though I occasionally enjoy the unusual sensation while on holiday of not bothering to keep up with what's going on in the world, for the most part I'm a news junkie. In my university days, a few friends and I would go to the TV room in the Students' Union to watch the early evening news before hitting the bar. There we would upset more serious folks with our cynical laughter and sarcastic comments deriding the pompous political nonsense of the day.
Much has changed since then, though politicians' propensity for dishonesty, greed and hypocrisy has continued unabated, indeed intensified dramatically. But though much of today's news induces sickening feelings of disgust and despair (Iraq, Darfur, Burma, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine), there are still more rewarding feelings to be gained by newswatching. A look at a few recent stories indicates some of the varied responses that the news can evoke.
On the "disgusting" side is war criminal Dick Cheney's pronouncement that Iran can never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons
. What hypocritical arrogance! I don't want to see any country owning nukes (and I applaud the four that have given them up), but who gave the country with more weapons of mass destruction than any other the right to decide who else can have them? Iran is a sovereign state, not a US colony.
Some news stories merely appear to state the obvious, so one wonders what's the point of printing them: "China rulers 'silencing dissent'
" (surprise, surprise); or The Standard's report
that former psychiatric patients in Hong Kong do better with outreach support after being discharged, a message tragically reinforced by the murder/suicide in Tin Shui Wai
a few days after the publication of that entirely predictable research finding.
Some stories make you think: while ATV News was saying something like "these are the nine men who will steer China's course for the next five years" when the new Politburo Standing Committee
was wheeled out a few days ago, I was thinking not of the balance between various factions of the party, but how come with half a billion to choose from, they can't find a single representative of China's women to include?
Other stories are questionable or even deliberately misleading. The Morning Post's front page story last Sunday that Burmese monks were trained in nonviolent protest techniques by the American-backed National Endowment for Democracy could be taken as suggesting that the US government was behind the recent wave of protests in Burma - certainly the military regime will seize on the opportunity to claim this. In fact Burmese sources make it clear that, while a few monks may have attended these courses, the uprising against the vicious and corrupt dictatorship was essentially spontaneous and (sadly) uncoordinated.
Incidentally, it's interesting to observe that some news media (BBC, ATV) still use the name Burma, while others (TVB, Morning Post) have switched to Myanmar. Personally I continue to refer to the country as Burma (and its former capital as Rangoon, not Yangon), because its people were never given any choice in the change of name
, any more than they were in the change of capital.
Sometimes poor choices of words can be amusing, as when ATV declared on 12 September that, following an injury to one of its players, the US team in the Women's World Cup was a man
down for ten minutes. Er... there is a difference, you know.
Other mistakes are just careless: the Sloppy Morning Post
on Sunday captioned a photo of a light plane crash as being in Montreal when it was actually in Richmond, BC - only 4,800 km away by road. At least they got the country right, but Canada is an awfully big country! By a happy coincidence, the same issue placed a picture of the odious Australian PM John Howard next to the caption "Teacher denies molesting boys". I had to look more closely to see that the two were unrelated!
Perhaps my favourite part of the news is the quirky little "what the..." stories that are often used as filler in the papers or closing items for the TV news. Several recent headlines on the BBC website are good examples: "J K Rowling outs Dumbledore as gay
"; "Man, 24, loses 82-year-old wife
", and "Monkeys kill Delhi deputy mayor
". The last story itself is rather tragic, but for Hong Kongers there is something else noteworthy about it: the aggressive monkeys responsible, rhesus macaques, are the same species as those that live around Kowloon Reservoir in Hong Kong's Kam Shan Country Park
. As they used to say on Hill Street Blues
, "Be careful out there".