We must all be grateful to the Catholic Monitors on Legislative Councillors. I am not sure why Catholics should be particularly keen on monitoring councillors. Would they refuse the help of a Protestant volunteer? Never mind. Since 1998 the monitors have produced an annual report on the work of legislative councillors and this provides some interesting insights. Inevitably, media reporting of this admirable effort tends to concentrate on who is the Laziest Legislator, a title for long held by David Li, then by Timothy Fok, and now securely in the possession of Lau Wong-fat.

Unfortunately the monitors do not report in English. The results of their efforts as translated by Google are very difficult to follow. But in principle what happens is this: the legislators are assessed on five measures: how often they were absent, how many questions they asked, how often they spoke, how often they voted and how many motions or amendments they proposed.

Jasper Tsang. Photo: Wikicommons and Stand News.

It would be easy enough to pick holes in this methodology, but the overall result is quite consistent from year to year, which suggests that it is measuring something substantial. This year, Mr Lau was the winner again (or loser, however you want to look at it) with five “disadvantages”, which I take it means a low or bottom score on all five of the items listed above. Joint runners-up were two Functional Constituency lay-abouts with four disadvantages, followed by one councillor with three. This was Ronny Tong, who we may infer was practising for his up-coming retirement from the scene.

The monitors went on to criticise the president of LegCo, Jasper Tsang, for deviating from the necessary levels of impartiality by conferring with pro-establishment legislators over Whatsapp during a debate, and some rulings on motions. They also provide an analysis of councillors’ levels of industry compared by party allegiance and by whether they were elected or functional. Unfortunately Google translation does not handle tables well so I cannot offer any further information on this interesting area.

I can, however, warn faithful readers not to waste their time by seeking further information in the pages of the South China Morning Post, where the report on the activities of the Catholic Monitors is a travesty.

I appreciate that the reporter had a problem. The results of the monitors’ efforts do not vary a great deal from year to year. Generally the same councillors do the least work, by the monitors’ measures. The pro-establishment camp shows up as a bit lazier than the opposition, mainly because the pro-establishment camp contains so many functionals, who are clearly the laziest by this measure.

In fairness we should note that many of them have other jobs, while the DAB and pan-democrat people are usually full-time politicos.  That is not at all to say that the list is useless, or the work wasted. Few readers of this year’s report will dissent from the monitors’ view that Mr Lau has passed his “sell-by” date.

Lau Wong-fat.

Still, however desperate the reporter may have been, the result of his efforts was unfortunate. Looking at one of the five categories he found two pan-dems in it. The category is the “proposing motions and amendments” one, in which, quite understandably, some members do not feature at all. Both of the pan-dems with zero scores are “super seat” members, who might be expected to be industrious. So this could be surprising. On the other hand it is only one of the five measures. So it can hardly justify the first paragraph of the story, which is “Two pan-democrat “super seat” legislators have been listed, along with the usual suspects from the pro-establishment camp, as the laziest members of the legislative session.”

This is not just a poor choice. It is wrong. Being wrong, it led to the even more catastrophic headline “Pan-dem duo named ‘laziest’ lawmakers”, which is so bad it is difficult to characterize it as anything but a lie. Clearly the person who wrote the headline had not read the story carefully, a disturbing habit in a sub-editor.

The story goes on through the matter of not moving motions, noting that they also included Mr Lau and three Liberals. It does not mention the other people in this category, who included two DAB people and the man who squats for the Financial Services Industry.

We then get comments from the Monitors, and an explanation of super seats, before we explore the category of casting votes. Here we find low scores for Mr Lau (of course), one of our two “laziest” pan-dems, and two other democrats (one of them Ronny Tong). There were a total of seven lawmakers in this category, so we are left with three missing. Apparently the reporter thought we would not be interested. Or perhaps the paper’s policy these days is not to report anything unless it can be used to slag off the pan dems.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah. File Photo: Stand News.

By a final irony the last paragraph of the story contains what the monitors actually wanted to report: “overall… the group identified Lau, non-affiliated Dr Leung Ka-lau and Cheung Kwok-che of the Liberal Party as the worst offenders.”

So, in effect, the story comprises 12 paragraphs of propaganda with one paragraph of news on the end. It seems the new owner of the newspaper aspires to improve its China coverage, which is apparently still prone to regard China as a communist state. I think you have to be pretty paranoid to see any bias against China in the paper these days. Its coverage of local politics, on the other hand, is increasingly a travesty of journalism.

Would any under-employed Catholic monitors like to take on the local media?

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.