Why don’t we think independently while we can?

Yesterday, I had lunch with a well-known writer in Hong Kong, and he told me how a popular newspaper had deliberately distorted some events that concerned him, so as to produce a sensational story that portrayed him as the bad guy. He said what the newspaper did was bordering on triad activities. I was not surprised. Some of my friends have fallen prey to newspapers that are only concerned to make up fictitious, sensational, stories, rather than to report with the highest level of accuracy.

Yes, we need a free press. A free press is the most effective watchdog on the government and those with power, the latest example being the case of Tong Hin Ming. But we also have to understand the ecology of the mass media, and today I read every paper with a great deal of caution, for in order to boost sales, or push their political agendas, some newspapers are not much better than the People’s Daily we like to scoff at. If you allow yourself to be misled by them, you get a very distorted picture of what’s really going on in the community.

And our politicians? When was the last time they made a fair comment about a social issue? Everything they say is politically motivated. Again, I’m not surprised – they are politicians.

And look at our public online discussion forums. Again, we laugh at China. But is the quality of discussion in our online discussion forums any better than that in China? I’m sure you know what I mean: the only thing you can do is to join the rest in chanting offensive remarks against a targeted person; give a slightly different view, and you become the target.

This is a big shame, because we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech over China. But how are we exercising our freedom of speech? In discussion forums, either virtual or physical, you get (a) opposing camps shouting abusive language at each other, or (b) people joining hands and making rude, unsubstantiated, profane, humiliating, remarks against a common enemy. There is no real discussion on discussion forums.

But while we are still having this freedom, shouldn’t we cherish this opportunity, and learn to think independently, instead of toeing the lines set for us by the mass media, the politicians, and the herd? The ability and opportunity to think independently, is a precious gift. Let us not squander it. Get the facts right. Think independently. Be yourself.

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