Chief Executive Carrie Lam told the press on Tuesday that she thought answering a question in English was a waste of time, after she had already given an answer in Cantonese.

Lam was speaking to the media before a routine Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning. She was asked in Cantonese about her earlier comments on reclamation and land supply, before an RTHK reporter asked another question on the same topic.

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“Well, I think in future we’d better arrange simultaneous interpretation for this media standup because I kept on repeating the answers at each standup. I have answered exactly the same question in Cantonese, so I’m going to repeat what I said in Cantonese. But in future, the Director of Information Services may consider a better arrangement so that we don’t need to waste time,” Lam said in response.

Four questions were asked at the event and only one was in English. English is one of Hong Kong’s official languages.

‘International financial centre’

Shirley Yam, a vice-chairperson at the Hong Kong Journalists Association, told HKFP that a government information policy biased towards Chinese would not be conducive to Hong Kong’s ambitions of becoming an I.T. hub.

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Carrie Lam at a media standup. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“It is a shame that our CE [Chief Executive] will describe it a waste of time in explaining the government’s policies to the English speaking community while often emphasising Hong Kong as an international financial centre,” Yam said.

“Over the years, We have detected a significant drop in bilingual information or press releases provided by the government… despite the policy of English as official language. We are concerned that the CE’s remarks will result in further deterioration in this regard,” she added.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the HKJA, Chinese-only press releases out-numbered English-only releases by a ratio of 5.48:1. In particular, a press statement about a population survey for racial minorities was released in Chinese only.

HKJA 2010 survey english language gis
Photo: HKJA.

“The HKJA believes that the GIS [Government Information System] should pay more attention to the English language and the English-speaking world instead of focusing so much on Chinese. Hong Kong should be understood by the world, to emphasise English is not only to help non-Chinese speaking journalists, the more important thing is to ensure that Hong Kong remains a World City and is really connected with the world at large,” the HKJA said at the time.

Lam raised concerned about press freedom at an earlier media event in April. She said the question of whether Hong Kong’s media will be censored or face legal action over covering people who make pro-independence remarks would depend on the situation and the law.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.