POLITICS – Interests of Conflict Weekly Digest #5 2

Interests of ConflictBelow is the latest digest from our political commentator ‘Tony Wong’. Hong Wrong publishes a selection of his musings each week, but you can sign up for his full, daily newsletter by emailing ‘subscribe‘ to [email protected] It is “aimed at informed residents who are encouraged to further develop and rebut the arguments made here, and in the media, to create actual, honest and productive political dissent.”

Friday, 25/10: Property –  Jake Van Der Kamp writes in the SCMP about how low interest rates in the United States have inflated Hong Kong’s real estate prices. He claims that low interest rates in the USA equal rising housing prices here, but looking up the data (see google’s public data explorer below) shows us that this is simply not true. In the last 10 years property prices have been rising steeply, and yet in the same period we have seen both times of high and of low interest rates. Between ‘93 and ‘98, when property prices doubled interest rates were even between 4 and 6%… Van Der Kamp makes it look as if we, given the dollar peg, have no choice but to simply accept the exploding living costs that, as he points out, very much screw over the poor… Truth is however, we do have a choice, or at least our government does. The rising prices are a story of demand and supply. In the years after the ‘97 Asian Financial Crisis which coupled with the SARS epidemic, 9/11 and the bust of the dotcom bubble demand drastically fell. But as supply remained stagnant prices were nothing but bound to explode once demand recovered… As we do not want to wait for the world economy to completely collapse to have decent living conditions again we must create more housing now. Sell some of these empty parking lots maybe?

Wednesday 23/10: HKTV Fallout – The government has shot itself a firework of press releases in the foot. Instead of granting HKTV their TV license the government instead decided to upgrade the Hong Kong Information Services Department to the status of ‘Satire Magazine’, or so it seems…  Two days ago they headlined with ‘TV decision guided by public interest’, while saying they can’t explain anything further as they have an obligation to protect HKTV’s interests. Yesterday they quoted Leung Chun-yin with saying ‘we have an open system’ when trying to explain why he cannot give any details. Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen added that the Executive Council needs confidentiality because it is longstanding and important, but I assume we won’t be hearing why it is important as there is some confidentiality issue here. Then, Leung is quoted by his own news channel as saying: “The recent licence decision was to introduce more competition to raise the television production standard, giving the public more choices and better services” which is hopefully bitterly and maliciously taken out of context, or else must be taken as a sign for delusion… The government also clarifies that when it said ‘there is no upper limit on the amount of television licenses’ they actually just meant ‘there is no upper limit on the amount of television license applications’. Are we being trolled?… Presuming that the government knows our concerns for who is really pulling the strings they do a very good job feeding our fears by outlining that Leung was on his way to Beijing last night when he made the informative statement that Leung aims to fight any judicial review in court… 

So either we are dealing with a government that is not even listening to itself, or Leung has some serious issues with his subordinates at the ISD (and other departments). The list of councillors, ex-Exco members and so-called ‘pro-government politicians’ who publicly oppose the decision is growing longer and longer, though it would take some time to verify exactly what that means. Gladly ‘Staff Reporters’ at the SCMP at least sum up some of the names… Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has by far the best piece on the issue, but he isn’t doing Leung a favor either. Similar to his speech at the Lion Rock Institute, he overly praises the government’s libertarian policies that in reality don’t exist. This time, focusing on the broadcasting and communications industry he is at least not far off enough to make a fool of himself.

Summing his post up, Tsang says that we can chose from 390 cable channels that are provided by the three Hong Kong pay-TV license holders, 9% more than last year. There are also a total of 500 unencrypted and unlicensed TV channels receivable through satellite. There are 11 million subscribers to high speed mobile internet packages who downloaded a total of 10,000 Terabytes in the past 12 months, 1.7 times as much as in the year before. 84% of households are connected to broadband internet, with average peak speeds of 7.95 MB per second. Additionally he says there are 10,000 wifi spots… The best part is where he prides himself with his ‘Light-handed, liberal approach’: “We do not pre-censor broadcast content or impose restrictions on the business models to be adopted by our broadcasters. Freedom of expression is a core value that we always cherish.”

I happily take that. But what is Tsang’s point? From a pure argumentative perspective he is paving the road for a well constructed argument that he then forgets to make. What is he trying to tell us? A very possible conclusion from the facts that Tsang tells us would be: In a city where everybody has access to cable, broadband internet and satellite it really shouldn’t be a problem for someone like Ricky Wong Wai-kay to set up a free TV channel without the actual free-to-air television license. It’s not illegal to broadcast from Hong Kong to Hong Kong via Internet or Satellite (as Tsang clarifies), there is no censorship body (for the internet at least), he could start a pay TV channel or buy himself a bus company and start broadcasting in there. Anyone who takes the MTR would consider it madness anyway to try to market a television program that is not primarily distributed to smart phones. Wong has successfully launched himself as an idol against the government, he could probably now start a telegram subscription service and get people to sign up for it.

If that is the argument that Tsang wants to make he truly is a liberal rebel. Hey argues against the decision of the Executive Council by saying there are so many hundreds of TV channels already, one more cannot possibly have an effect on the ‘orderly and healthy development of the market’, as Leung argues. Tsang also makes the case against the licensing scheme in general, saying that as the government doesn’t (and shouldn’t) regulate any of the other broadcasting means, it maybe also should get its insensitive foul foot out of that ordinance as well.

But even more so, he tears down the wall between broadcasting and telecommunications, saying it is indistinguishable. And yes, why should we need a license to communicate? Why would we need approval to say what we think? This newsletter isn’t licensed, and it never will be, because it shouldn’t have to be.

[Click to view coverage of last Sunday’s protest]

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[Hong Wrong Addendum – Apple Daily graphic, translated via Badcanto / Real HK News]

Tuesday, 22/10 – Discrimination – Jennifer Ngo reports of a Hong Kong man of Indian ethnicity and Christian belief who cannot find a place for the urn of his wife who died six months ago… For Andrew, the man in question, it will not come as a great relief to find out that this is a very common problem to have as it is a story of artificial scarcity rather than one of ethnicity or religion. But for us common people who fit into their stereotypes it would be very much of interest that it can happen to us too, and it will happen if neither the laws governing private burial places or the supply of public burial places aren’t drastically changed.

Whenever there are individuals in control over scarce supply, it seems to be at the core of human nature to hand out these supplies to the nearest kin (or good friends). That doesn’t make it just of course, but it explains this kind of racism much better than ‘hate’… As soon as people start noticing this we might find ourselves in situations where we have to for years suck up to religious organizations, government officials and columbaria monopolies in order to secure a place of remembrance for our loved ones… Ngo’s article suggests that making cemeteries subject to anti-discrimination laws would solve the issue, but that were only true if the issue really were racism. In reality, the issue is scarcity. Neither of the religious, public or private cemeteries in question enjoy to be racist (with the exemption of the ethnic ones, maybe).

Having strong and fair procedures (like with the allocation of public housing) would maybe at least make the issue more broadly visible, but in the end, nobody wants a six-month period for their family member’s burial either.

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