On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

One big let-down for western press

It must have been a let-down for many of these western reporters.  Nothing much seems to have changed.The immigration stamp on their  passports to register their departure is still the same. It just says  “Hong Kong Immigration'' not  SAR for Special Administrative Region.

And certainly not the People's  Republic of China although there  are now more splashes of red in  Hong Kong as Chinese flags fly  side by side with the SAR flag. Against a backdrop of Asia's  most stunning skyline, the world's  media were here to cover the end  of a part of the British empire and  the raising of the Chinese flag.The western media had expected  more.

They were ready to record the  chaos and panic among locals as  the People'sLiberation Army and their tanks entered the city.

They expected screaming pro-democracy protesters to be clubbed  and dragged away by baton-waving policemen under political pressure  from the Chinese might. All that didn't happen. And most  of the western reporters who came  to record the biggest hyperbole  must have been disappointed.

It would have been difficult to  explain to editors in some sleepy  towns in the United States that the  rain-soaked Hong Kong folk were  actually waving tiny Chinese flags to welcome the PLA.

Surely, there must be a mistake  somewhere. Those money-minded  Hong Kong people were supposed to hold placards and candles to protest against the “massacre'' at  Tiananmen Square.

Yes, there were some protests   after all, protests are still allowed  in Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems'' policy.

The scare campaign against China and the SAR flopped. None of  the western newspapers, despite  their claims to tell the truth, will  admit that the response from the  Hong Kong people to the protests  was feeble.

The protesters were sparse and  they were having a good time taking pictures of each other to record  their “contributions'' to the historical occasion. The truth was that the locals had  a great time playing mahjong or  watching the celebrations on TV.

Many were out on the streets  watching the fireworks  just like  Americans do on Independence  Day.The July 1 “super holiday,'' as  the locals dubbed it, was also the  best time for shopping  another  favourite pastime in this consumer  society.

The ringing of cash registers, since June 30 midnight, for the  Great Handover Sales had never  been sweeter. Who cared about  demonstrations?

That would be really tough to explain to western editors who wanted follow-up stories about Hong Kong in danger,the doom of democracy, self-censorship of the  press and the end of civil society.

CNN, despite its international reputation, was equally guilty of  lop-sided reporting for it was more  concerned with its largely-American audience.

Anchorman Bernard Shaw, an  African-American, showed his ignorance of East Asian politics and  even disrespect to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. At one point, Shaw  told Tung “to cut out the modesty''  when, in typical Asian humility, the  latter played down his clout.

The sad part was that even a  leading local English daily in Hong  Kong was lapping up the western influence by carrying reports and  editorials similar to that of western publications. The contrast has never been  greater. Western TV was showing a  Hong Kong and Southern China “gripped with tension'' while Hong  Kong TV had scenes of celebrations.

The western media referred to Tung as “Beijing-picked'' and by an  “autocratic government.'' No one referred to Governor Chris Patten  as “London-picked'' or “appointed governor.''

Who are we to believe? The western press which spoke only to the  likes of Democratic Party chief  MartinLee who are British-trained  and liberal, or the local media  which listened to the Cantonese speaking locals who read racing  tabloids passionately while eating  chok (porridge) for breakfast?

The truth, as they say, is somewhere out there.