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4 Jan 2008

what lies behind siu cho's struggle in RTHK case

Following the Broadcasting Authority's ruling that a programme discussing same-sex marriage is "biased towards homosexuality" and that future programmes may be required to include anti-gay views, Joseph Cho who appeared in the programme has sought a judicial review of the matter. Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities' Nigel Collett highlights the implications of the outcome of the case.

Hong Konger Joseph Cho Man-kit (Siu Cho to his friends, of whom there is a growing number) is about to get his judicial review of the Broadcasting Authority's censure of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) over its programme Hong Kong Connection - Gay Lovers. The review has wide implications and is an important one for the gay community in Hong Kong, so before launching into a discussion of the issues it raises, let us remind ourselves of the story, which Fridae.com has reported on several times since it broke.

The Broadcasting Authority ruled that an episode of the RTHK-produced series Hong Kong Connection - featuring Joseph Cho Man-kit and well-known lesbian activist-couple Connie Chan (left) and Wei Siu-lik - was ''unfair, partial and biased towards homosexuality, and having the effect of promoting the acceptance of homosexual marriage.''
Siu Cho, who is a 26-year-old PhD student researching gender studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, appeared with two well known activist lesbian partners, Connie Chan and Wei Siu-lik, on the Jade Channel on 9 July 2006 in a show which aired the issues surrounding gay and lesbian partnerships in Hong Kong. The programme was an innocuous, even a quietly charming one and contained no graphic scenes or matter likely to offend any but the most religiously intolerant. All three participants spoke of their lives directly to the camera and appeared openly under their own names. The fact that the programme was so restrained, and that the three had the temerity to even appear to be happy, upset some of Hong Kong's Christian fundamentalists, who would prefer it that all gays and lesbians be portrayed as sad cases living unstable and unhealthy lifestyles. Twenty-two of these fanatics complained to the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) that the programme had 'discriminated against them' as it did not show the happily partnered gays dying of AIDS and as no Christian group had been invited on the programme to put a contrary view. TELA threw out these complaints and upheld RTHK's editorial right to choose the content of its programmes. One of the complainants then appealed to the Broadcasting Authority, which, in a press release on 20 January this year, upheld part of the complaints and ruled that RTHK had breached the Generic Code governing their operations. Their press release said that:

"The programme was presented in the form of a documentary and that the contents of the programme about homosexuality and the legalization of homosexual marriage were controversial in many societies including Hong Kong. The programme was therefore a factual programme dealing with matters of public policy or controversial issues of public importance in Hong Kong and should be subject to the impartiality rule under the relevant code. However, the programme presented only the merits of homosexual marriage and featured only the views of three homosexuals on the legislation of homosexual marriage, rendering the presentation unfair, partial and biased towards homosexuality and having the effect of promoting the acceptance of homosexual marriage."

The programme had in no way 'promoted' anything, so RTHK objected to this ruling. However, despite the fact that it is clear that the Broadcasting Authority was applying a stricter line than that called for in the Generic Code which governs broadcasters' activities (the Code does not require absolute neutrality, but allows editorial judgment), and the certain fact that the Code does not stipulate the inclusion of opposing viewpoints on every programme, RTHK did not appeal to the Executive Council. This it was their right to have done, but one factor which must have weighed in their decision not to appeal was the political pressure brought to bear on them by Joseph Wong, Secretary (Minister, in effect) for Commerce, Industry and Technology, and himself an ex officio Executive Council member. His portfolio includes broadcasting and he took it upon himself to meet the RTHK Director of Broadcasting to 'show his concern' and to frame Chu's refusal to issue a 'repentance' statement as defying the memorandum signed between RTHK and the Broadcasting Authority on programming guidelines. In the face of this, RTHK can be forgiven for thinking that an appeal to Exco would not have been worth the bother. It did, though, refuse a request by the Broadcasting Authority to broadcast some representative anti-gay comment.

The issue was taken up by Hong Kong's Legislative Council in March this year, when Legco's Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting held a session to examine the matter. After hearing testimony from all sides, they concluded that:

"This Panel considers that the decision of the Broadcasting Authority concerning the episode entitled Homosexual Lovers in "Hong Kong Connection" of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is in fact discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation."

They went on to urge the Broadcasting Authority to withdraw its decision. The Broadcasting Authority ignored the Panel, claiming that it had no power to reverse its decision. So, the ruling stands. What it means in effect is that RTHK, and all other broadcasters, will be obliged to include some representative of the anti-gay lobby in every documentary programme mentioning LGBT subjects.

There things would have stood had it not been for the bravery of Siu Cho, who decided to fight. Initially, he tried all administrative routes of redress: an online petition to the Chief Executive with about 2000 signatures received no reply. The fundamentalists organised a counter petition and, at a conference they called in June, boasted that they outnumbered Siu Cho's supporters. The Broadcasting Authority was petitioned, of course to no effect. The Ombudsman was approached, however the Ombudsman had no powers to intervene since the Broadcasting Authority is simply excluded from the list of organizations to which the Ombudsman Ordinance applies, while TELA is on the same list. The reason of such exclusion is unknown.

Complaints to the Equal Opportunities Commission would get nowhere in the absence of any legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. A submission to the Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Unit, established in the Home Affairs Bureau in 2005 to 'actively promote equal opportunities for gays, lesbians and transgender persons' (as the Hong Kong Government put it in its obligatory report to the United Nations) was merely 'actively' forwarded to the Broadcasting Authority.

Eventually, only an application for a judicial review was left, an impossibility had not Hong Kong's legal system remained free enough to rule that the issue was of sufficient public importance to warrant the grant of legal aid. Such, thankfully, it did, and with the help of his solicitor, Michael Vidler, who recently helped Billy Leung overturn one of Hong Kong's discriminatory criminal buggery/sodomy laws, and barrister Hector Pun Hei, who has been involved in the conservationist fight to save Queen's Pier, Siu Cho has been granted legal aid to challenge the Broadcasting Authority's ruling in the courts. The date of the review is yet to be announced but it will be soon. The case will be fought by the Government and is expected to be a long one.

The implications of all this are wider than they seem. This is not some obscure dispute about a single programme and a TV broadcaster's code of ethics. This is a major issue of media freedom and religious-inspired censorship. What has also become clear since January 2007 is that the Broadcasting Authority's ruling is in danger of becoming Hong Kong's equivalent to Britain's notorious section 28 (of the Local Government Act) which, enacted by Margaret Thatcher's government to ban the 'promotion of homosexuality' in schools and other institutions, in effect banned any discussion of the subject at all. 'A similar chilling effect is visible now in Hong Kong,' says Siu Cho, who has personal experience of this already. Interviewed by me recently, he said that he had been invited to appear on an Cable TV programme in January, but that, after the Broadcasting Authority ruling, Cable TV felt itself compelled to invite a fundamentalist to take part. As a result, Siu Cho withdrew. In another case in which he has been involved personally, a government social worker delayed, then effectively shelved, an invitation to Siu Cho and others to share their experiences with a public audience. The man had been subjected to pressure from a superior who feared that, after the Broadcasting Authority ruling, the Hong Kong Government, who were his employers, would accuse him of 'promoting' homosexuality.

In such dry bureaucratic processes are the seeds of censorship nurtured. Of course, we have no real way of telling why the Broadcasting Authority's members acted and continue to act the way they do. This case does, though, raise the issues of the criteria for the appointment of members to such statutory bodies and the way Government appointees have been found repeatedly attempting to impose their own moral codes within their spheres of responsibility. In this case, as with the case of the 2005 appointment of the Society for Truth and Light to teach 'human rights' to school teachers, where civil servants in the Education and Manpower Bureau issued almost identical statements to those of the fundamentalists, we seem to see some partiality towards the fundamentalist right lurking in corners of the Government and its appointed organs. This is a partiality which is much in evidence in Hong Kong's often religiously sponsored schools. It may not be coincidental, here, that one member of the Broadcasting Authority is a headmaster in a church secondary school.

What underlies this issue is a concerted attempt by the fundamentalist activists in bodies such as the Society for Truth and Light and New Creation to infiltrate the views they derive from their interpretation of the Christian faith into all discourse on LGBT issues. This is not something new. Some years back, New Creation persuaded the Hong Kong Government to include them in meetings of the Sexual Minority Forum, a body set up to provide liaison between the LGBT communities and the Home Affairs Bureau (now the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau). They did so on the spurious grounds that they represented a 'minority within a minority', the gay people who didn't want to be gay. Now, all discussion between the LGBT communities and the Government includes, and of course is monitored by, the Christian right, which is doing all in its power to prevent those discussions bearing any fruit at all. Continually now, in the Hong Kong press, advocates of these groups demand to be given the right to air their prejudices every time any LGBT issue is debated. They do so, of course, to be enabled to continue to exercise their 'right' to discriminate. They do so that, even if it is no longer legally possible in Hong Kong to put all gays and lesbians back in the closet, all discussion of issues concerning them can be locked up there instead. The Hong Kong Government, or at least several large parts of it, seems to have swallowed these arguments and has given these organisations not only credence but public funding to spread their views. The Society for Truth and Light, for instance, runs courses in our secondary schools, courses on which it hands out pre-printed forms of complaint for the students to send to Government departments about any broadcast they dislike. Forms, it would seem, which are likely to have been paid for by the taxpayer.

So, the issues are clear. In seeking this judicial review, Siu Cho is fighting not only for the freedom of the press to examine and comment uncensored upon LGBT issues. He is also striking a blow against the growing attempt by the Christian right to manipulate Government policy and to insert itself into every debate upon LGBT rights. His action is a major part of the ongoing struggle in Hong Kong to have a law enacted against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, for this will never happen without open and informed public debate. It is clear that a great deal hangs on the results of this review, much that affects us all. The next few months of legal argument will set the parameters for public debate on LGBT issues in Hong Kong for some time to come. We will watch with more than interest.

This guest column was written by Nigel Collett for Hong Kong's Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities (www.cr4sd.org), a NGO working for the rights of people who may be disadvantaged by the law, policies and social prejudices in Hong Kong because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual expression. The column will be written by founding member Roddy Shaw and various writers.

Nigel Collett is an English biographer and businessman living in Hong Kong. Author of several books, including
The Butcher of Amritsar, he has written for GMagazine and reviews for the Asian Review of Books. He is a moderator for the Hong Kong Man International Literary Festival.

Hong Kong

Reader's Comments

1. 2008-01-04 22:02  
Including representative of the anti-gay lobby in every documentary programme mentioning LGBT subjects is probably just going to divide the society more.

But it is also such platform, where both sides challenge each other face to face, that we are lacking in singapore.

Nevertheless, both singapore and hongkong could learn so much about fundamental christians community hijacking government policies. We should always revise and understand what it means by the word secular.
Comment #2 was deleted by its author
3. 2008-01-04 22:22  
The irony is that Chairman of the Broadcasting Authority, Daniel Fung, was Solicitor General of HKSARG advising on human rights law including representing Hong Kong before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Maybe it's not an irony, just a joke.
4. 2008-01-04 22:27  
I wonder if the if whats good fr the goose is good for the gander...should we insist that hour of power or other such church services also require the alternative view?
Comment #5 was deleted by its author
6. 2008-01-05 02:03  
so what, can't diverging views contend?

I haven't read this article full. It is written like its a traditional medium. Internet news are better served if concise, brief.

7. 2008-01-05 06:53  
Yeah, it is really a longwinded article.
But the points it put forward were relevant to tell the whole story.

This poor guy has been given the runaround by all the official channels of redress.

I think this young guy deserves my applause for standing up and fighting this all the way to it's evil route.

8. 2008-01-05 07:26  
To say that a programme on homosexuality needs to have an anti-gay lobby to argue against the right for homosexuals to exist is like saying that a programme on civil rights needs to have racist lobby to argue against the right for black people to exist.

It seems that the HK government has decided to throw reason and common-sense out the window in favour of the pure lunacy and irrationality of the so-called 'minority' right wing Christians who seem to have taken over the State on decisions regarding the basic rights of fellow human beings.
9. 2008-01-05 09:07  
No sensible, unbiased assessment of the issues could sustain the argument that rival views have to be presented in the name of "balance" - Time to get out there and protest girls - I don't blame "just" the christians, I attach blame to governments who are to frightened of change and freedom of expression to understand that it cannot be supressed. We all know ultimately right will win - remember that the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras began life as a political protest movement demanding gay rights. Now it's a huge, fun, tourist attraction! Score: 1 to us, 0 to repressive governments!
10. 2008-01-05 10:26  
I would say it works
they come when we are on air and we are there when they give and spread their religious views , take it a a chance to chalange then more often
we are not affraid of MYTHS . God is not proven to exist , how can any humain speak in the name of any god ?but we cna speak for our selves .
take them up on the offer get on Air at each of the religious events they need the gay view and the ATHIST view john sharp
11. 2008-01-05 12:10  
My goodness..the oppressive religious spirit is spreading from SGP to Hong Kong. Left wingers..please fast and pray hard. Otherwise, it will be all too late.. =(
12. 2008-01-05 13:28  
If balanced views are to be presented at every tv programme, then whenever a programme shows happy straight couples getting married, shouldnt it be compulsory that it also flash the divorce rates that have been rising, and that the couple almost never will live "happily ever after"? Why discriminate against a programme for showing happy relationships just because the relationship is a gay one? The logic of the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority needs to be examined.
13. 2008-01-05 14:45  
what do you expect from Chinese? this article is old news and of no suprise
Comment #14 was deleted by its author
15. 2008-01-05 17:02  
Logically, if the religious right demand the right to counterpoint any media coverage of gay rights, then the gay community should demand the right to counterpoint any religious "promotion" of homophobic propaganda.

At another level, it is never justified to argue that minority rights should be subjugated to majority whims or opinions. This was clearly spelled-out when Canada introduced same-sex marriage [Civil Marriage Act]; the then Prime Minister, Paul Martin said:

"...The Charter [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority..."

16. 2008-01-05 20:43  
Also, I find it hypocritical that whilst the Christians argue for an anti-gay viewpoint for programmes 'promoting' (which the use of such a term is highly questionable in such a context) homosexuality, their own religious programmes who promote (in every sense of the word) the Christian ideals and moral high ground do not have any anti-Christian/atheist viewpoint to counter argue any of its claims (such as the existence of God).

Besides the foreign imported Christian values which seem to be the only thing to have been ingrained into the HK consensus (besides democracy) from British rule, the Chinese also have their own questionable traditional views, ignorance and insecurities towards homosexuality which are also to blame. (And it is no surprise, I guess, that we Chinese are good at running away from the truth and hiding in our own bubbles of fantasy and pseudo-harmony.)
17. 2008-01-06 01:56  
UGLY UGLY UGLY UGLIEST man in the world...featured here in this article's picture.
18. 2008-01-06 05:17  
"JAS0NTan says (Posted : 06 January 2008 1:56) :

UGLY UGLY UGLY UGLIEST man in the world.."

Er, no, that would be you Jason. This guy has bigger balls than you would know what to do with.
Comment #19 was deleted by its author
20. 2008-01-06 05:34  
To JAS0NTan (Post #14):

Weird taste you. HK has one of the most handsome guys around in the world. You go and check it out.

Kit Zai has already appeared and will be appearing in many gay man's wild night dreams and fantasies after his photo has been posted in this article on this Fridae website with over 222000 profiles all over the world..including...=P
21. 2008-01-06 07:20  

I think you are being a wee bit naive, although separation of church and state is law in most western (style) democracies, we have a rising tide of fundamentalism appearing which, while not part of government is a pressure on government. As long as votes can be influenced governments will listen. That is why it is so important for minorities such as ours to garner support in other areas to increase our influence on policy.
So, while it is hypocritical for governments, or their representatives (in this case the HK broadcasting body) to support the "balance" argument against minority groups while not doing the same for others there is no way that this will change without protest. In Australia the previous government (the Howard Government) used the religious right to emasculate public broadcasting, prevent further change in homosexual law reform, dismantle the rights of refugees, .... oh the list goes on and on. Don't blame your ethnicity, blame your government! (Or in this case the HK government, which of course because Thatcher was such a right wing bitch is the Chinese government!)

22. 2008-01-06 08:14  
If they argue that an alternative view has to be put then every religous program must also put the athiest view, every pro-marriage program must put the anti-marriage view, every pro-straight program must put the allow the pro-gay view. OMG what an amazing place it would be. And when The Pope comes to visit will they insist on him being accompanied by Islamic, Buddist, Jewish and other religous leaders? Will George Bush have to bring along his opposite number? Will Pop singers have to bring along a country and western support act? Will police have to give equal acknowledgement to the rights of criminals?

The religous radicals who promote their crazy views have created a precedent that anyone can exploit.
23. 2008-01-06 11:42  
It's really very sad to see human nature at its worst. It boils down to the very human mindset iregardless of who or what you are; which is the main root of every problem exists..
24. 2008-01-06 17:27  
Go, Joseph!!! All the best for the judicial review! You go to show that the individual is not useless and helpless in front of the larger system!
25. 2008-01-06 18:24  
Having read and re-read the article on 'My Son is Gay?'. I find it a really sad article - the Mum's writing of her son's gayness 'as being with the devil' and of 'hating the sin while loving the sinner' really shows conditional love for her son...I would hope that parents can move beyond their own experience, and accept unconditionally their child's sexual orientation (- and to use Christain langauge, '...cos that is the way God made them')
26. 2008-01-07 10:13  
How ironic (though totally unsurprising) that it is, as usual, Christians trying to suppress editorial freedom and the freedom of GLBT people to say what and live how they want.

Especially ironic, because it is often Christians who are the loudest critics of countries where freedom of speech and religion are not tolerated, such as mainland China for example. But here go the Christians in Hong Kong acting in exactly the same way as the communists they love to loathe so much.

But of course, for Christians "freedom of speech/religion" really means, freedom for Christians to force their beliefs and morals down everyone else's throats whether they like it or not.

How sickenly hypocritical.
Comment #27 was deleted by its author
28. 2008-01-07 11:09  
JAS0NTan: It's obvious to us who the ugliest man in the world is - now that you've alerted readers to "him." Thanks for sharing.

Joseph, you're indeed courageous to take this on!
29. 2008-01-07 11:32  
Forgive me for stating my opinions: HK boys are amongst the most physically beautiful in the world. Christianity is a subversive, oppressive cult, responsible for nearly two thousand years of countless tortures and murders. No big surprise that broadcasting stations everywhere must patronize subversive special interest groups. Solutions(?): In order not to offend any special interest group or cult, make ALL programming generic. In the spirit of equality and in reciprocation to our religious brothers/sisters' example: all Christian/religious-focused programming therefore must also include opposing (HOMOSEXUAL) views and opinions. Here's yet another uniquely creative alternative: If you don't like what you see on your TV, you have the option of turning it off, or changing the channel...it's called a "remote control"....duh...
GO JOSEPH!!!! POWER TO YOUR COURAGE and THE CAUSE. I am also a happy, healthy, successful, well-adjusted, homosexual who contributes to the greater-society in my own unique way There are TENS OF MILLIONS of PEOPLE LIKE US on this planet, and here's more news: Christian zealots, we will be IN YOUR FACE, FOREVER, LIKE IT OR NOT.
30. 2008-01-07 12:09  
To CarnaSwans (Post #21),

This is what some people who thought they are not demonized demonizing some people who may not be demonized. This is the same type of people who told Jesus right to the face: 'You have a demon'.

Beware of their leaven.

In fact, according to their strict belief, all people are demonized over time, even among those who are in the faith, be it gay or straight, due to the unlawful activities they do.
31. 2008-01-07 13:25  
relating to "CarnaSwans'" comments below:

Have you seen the movie, 'The Golden Compass"? Everyone in that movie has a "demon"...an interesting "take" on the idea of demons and the role they play in our daily lives.
32. 2008-01-07 19:02  

Isn't Golden Compass the movie that got certain religious associations' panties in a tight knot? =p
All about organised religion...is everything duprie (Post #22) & many others alrd mentioned, so let's not waste any more energy on them.

Instead, why not channel all our worthy attention, strength & support to the erstwhile Joseph Cho Man-Kit??? He deserves it!! - & nothing but the best, may I add. So Fridae/ plus, any suggestions?
33. 2008-01-09 23:30  
Christians are embarrassing themselves!
34. 2008-01-10 16:20  
In Buddhism - it is clearly stated there is no one "god" controlling everything. Now, does that not run contrary to the Bible, and hence, should Buddhism be banned - and not be allowed to be "promoted"?
Comment #35 was deleted by its author
36. 2008-01-10 16:41  
To MrScorpio (Post #29),

You are right that they are showing double standards. If one wants to follow the Law, follow everything that is in it, not part of it. To them, all other religions are worshippers of demons (i.e. idolatry is an abomination). But they tolerate it. If they want to protest against homosexuality, they should show the same amount of zeal to protest all other religions. To them, idolatry isn't better than homosexuality.

Thus, as they protest aginst homosexuality, they should protest and fight for an enforced Christian state. But if they would respect other people's freedom choice of religion then they should respect other people's sexual orientation as well.
37. 2008-01-14 03:49  
Congratulations to Joseph Cho for taking such a principled stand...and he is so gorgeous too!!!!!

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