The University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) senior management team has slammed a parody of its welcome video produced by the student union’s CampusTV. The clip was removed after HKU deemed it an act of “bullying and hate speech” on Wednesday.
Posted at the beginning of the new academic year, the video mocked the university’s official message for incoming students. The original clip welcomed “a new cohort of brilliant students,” whilst the parody welcomed a new intake of “mainland students and spies of Big Brother!”
According to the parody video, the institution’s “selling points” included an education in “Menace, Ultranationalism, Dictatorship, Propaganda, and Communism,” and being “puppets of an authoritarian regime.”
It also mentioned the “sacking a professional legal scholar on political interests,” alluding to the university council’s decision to fire pro-democracy activist and associate law professor Benny Tai for misconduct in June.
Throughout the footage, the university was referred to as “XGU”, an reference to a Mandarin rendering of “Hong Kong” as “Xiang Gang. The clip comes amid fears for academic freedom and anti-mainlander sentiment in Hong Kong and abroad.
In a message to CampusTV later published on its Facebook page, a senior management team at the university condemned the video, calling it “offensive, hurtful, insensitive and unfair” to “a specific group of students,” referring to those from mainland China. The university also demanded the video be removed from all platforms, in addition to an apology from its producer.
In the same statement, the university affirmed its commitment to the freedom of speech and expression: “The University values freedom of thought and expression, but these must remain within the basic tenets of civility and be true to our accepted values of inclusion and respect.”
CampusTV later removed the offending clip and posted an apology onto their Facebook page.
“We clarify that the purpose of the film is not intended to attack anyone. The original intention was to satirise the school as repeatedly ignoring students’ opinions, and [to highlight how] the allocation of resources has leaned towards Chinese mainland students, and the interference of school administration.”
“Campus Television apologises for the inaccurate use of words in the editing of the film, which caused misunderstanding[s] amongst its viewers.”
In a statement to HKFP on Thursday, CampusTV said that the video was originally intended to air grievances the school administration and the “quickly deteriorating” freedom of speech and academic freedom at the university: “We wanted to protest against the sacking of Benny Tai and the fact that HKU is acting like a dictatorship more than ever, as many local students’ opinions were not taken into consideration when the school made decisions during the past few months.”
The statement also said that the “extreme pressure” they experienced from school officials to remove the video lends weight to their concerns: “By demanding us to take down the entire video, the school refuses to acknowledge or accept any criticism regarding the school’s management issues, which are and always have been the purpose of our video.”
“The removal of the video reflects some parts of the video are becoming the reality.”
The university’s statement on Facebook drew a wide range of comments, some from the university’s alumni, criticising the university’s actions: “What’s wrong with telling the truth? This statement is just another proof of tyranny on campus,” one read.
Others suggested that the video was an accurate depiction of the university’s current situation:”Where’s the hate speech? The ‘parody’ video is more truthful than your original video.”
“The video is simply a fair comment of [how] the university behaves,” another read. And another commenter said the university should feel “shame” for the sacking of Benny Tai and the university’s refusal to appoint of pro-democracy law academic Johannes Chan as pro-vice-chancellor in 2015.
Several other Facebook users suggested the university’s demand for the video’s removal was the latest instance of the university’s tightening of freedoms: “[T]his statement proves why HKU has become XGU,” calling the university’s call to remove the video “a total communist action which hinder[s] the freedom of speech and press.”
The incident follows increasing concerns for academic freedoms in Hong Kong following Beijing’s passing of the national security law in late June.