Meet the radio know-it-alls
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.