Meet the ra­dio know-it-alls

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - AL­BERT LIN The au­thor is the Op-Ed ed­i­tor of China Daily Hong Kong Edi­tion.

In a re­cent col­umn on this page our Op-Ed writer Tim Ham­lett (“What hap­pened to jour­nal­is­tic and le­gal prin­ci­ples nowa­days?’’, Dec 4) drew at­ten­tion to the slip­shod way the au­thor­i­ties keep a sup­pos­edly watch­ful eye on Hong Kong’s print me­dia. In­frac­tions against the laws of fair com­ment take place reg­u­larly but rarely if ever are the ed­i­tors or the au­thors of th­ese ar­guably in­cor­rect points of view called to ques­tion. How­ever, the press isn’t the only area of the me­dia where it seems that a blind eye is turned to com­ments that might be re­garded, in Hong Kong’s spe­cial cir­cum­stances, as be­ing quite in­flam­ma­tory. Fur­ther, it seems that the laws of li­bel — to hold up a per­son to ha­tred, ridicule or con­tempt — are also in­ter­preted gen­er­ously.

Why is it that ra­dio com­men­ta­tors seem to be treated as a very spe­cial breed of peo­ple who can say what­ever they like on air? From time to time lis­ten­ers hear some truly ou­tra­geous opin­ions be­ing aired on ra­dio, but may I ask where and how do th­ese self-ap­pointed mes­si­ahs of pub­lic opin­ion get their au­thor­ity to make such state­ments, and what mon­i­tor­ing of their pro­grams is car­ried out by the reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties?

Are th­ese com­men­ta­tors drawn from the literati, or are they per­haps eru­dite in­tel­lec­tu­als from academe? What is the ba­sis for their pos­i­tive views? I’ve never heard of a train­ing course for them, yet out there on the air­waves most of th­ese peo­ple un­hesi­tat­ingly speak with seem­ingly great cer­tainty on a va­ri­ety of sub­jects. How­ever, their spe­cialty seems to be to wade lustily into the con­tro­ver­sial is­sues of the day. En­thu­si­as­ti­cally “talk­ing up” th­ese di­vi­sive sub­jects with great zest they unashamedly add fuel to the fire as they turn up the heat with views that some­times go be­yond the edge of the en­ve­lope.

What qual­i­fi­ca­tions do they pos­sess apart from the gift of the gab and the abil­ity to think fast and throw in the oc­ca­sional barbed com­ment to pro­long a dis­cus­sion? The one among them I re­spect most has a life­time’s back­ground in the me­dia. Con­cern­ing his ri­vals I would sug­gest the most ex­treme of them are lit­tle bet­ter than ego­tis­ti­cal know-it-alls, who at the drop of a hat are able to blurt out an opin­ion on ev­ery sin­gle sub­ject raised by call­ers ... know-it-alls with the hide of an ele­phant and an ego to match, who are also mas­ters of the de­fen­sive squelch when rightly chal­lenged on a blun­der their glib tongue has led them to.

On pa­per, ra­dio sta­tions are of course sub­ject to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions as to what con­tent they broad­cast, but it seems that when it comes to talk­back ra­dio there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of of­fi­cial overview, even if the sub­jects be­ing “thrashed out” on air are po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive.

Fronting the mi­cro­phone, par­lay­ing phone calls from who­ever chooses to call in, and pro­vid­ing en­ter­tain­ment for lis­ten­ers should be a very chal­leng­ing job. But it ap­pears there is never a short­age of smooth-tongued in­ter­locu­tors smart enough to tell us how to fix ev­ery­thing from in­ter­na­tional crises to lo­cal gov­ern­men­tal prob­lems.

Sadly, the peo­ple who lap up th­ese pro­grams some­how be­lieve the per­son spout­ing their ever-crit­i­cal views on sub­jects large and small know what they are talk­ing about, thereby adopt­ing sim­i­lar dis­torted opin­ions.

Another prob­lem with th­ese com­men­ta­tors is they tend to breed bad man­ners among lis­ten­ers. This process be­gins when a com­men­ta­tor de­scends to a bit­ing re­sponse to a caller, bring­ing snig­gers of amuse­ment from lis­ten­ers. Both the know-it-all and the lis­tener get some twisted hu­mour out of this tac­tic, and since the caller is usu­ally be­lit­tled in the process, its serves him or her right for ask­ing a dumb ques­tion.

From the ra­dio sta­tion’s point of view, all this ver­bal back­bit­ing is mu­sic to their ears be­cause it keeps up their rat­ings — and doesn’t do any harm to their ad­ver­tis­ing rates, ei­ther. The more con­tro­ver­sial their com­men­ta­tors, the bet­ter it is for busi­ness.

Are they go­ing to curb the vit­ri­olic views of their com­men­ta­tor if it’s likely to af­fect their busi­ness? Never! They would be more likely to en­cour­age him to muddy the waters fur­ther.

It can­not be over-stressed that there are very se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions in­volved in th­ese one-sided talk shows — pub­lic opin­ion is def­i­nitely swayed by the ill-founded ad­vice and spite­ful re­marks ex­pressed on air.

Amus­ingly, there is a com­mon fac­tor about th­ese know-it-alls — with their puffed-up egos and over-wean­ing per­son­al­i­ties they even­tu­ally get too big for their britches, and can­not re­sist the temp­ta­tion of go­ing too far with their in­sult­ing in­nu­en­dos. Then they find them­selves com­pelled to is­sue a grov­el­ling apol­ogy that com­pletely shat­ters their rep­u­ta­tion as an all-see­ing fount of knowl­edge con­cern­ing ev­ery­thing un­der the sun.

The come­down of hav­ing to is­sue that apol­ogy com­pletely ru­ins their rep­u­ta­tion. As the ad­ver­tis­ers be­gin to can­cel their con­tracts with ra­dio sta­tions, the sta­tions fire the com­men­ta­tor, sanc­ti­mo­niously point­ing to a clause in their con­tracts that no of­fen­sive or er­ro­neous re­marks are to be made dur­ing their pro­grams.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, within a week the merry-go-round is in mo­tion again as another “voice” takes over and soon es­tab­lishes him­self or her­self as the lat­est in the never end­ing line of ra­dio know-it-alls.

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