So, Jimmy Lai has been acquitted on the charge of criminally intimidating a reporter. This is good news in at least one respect. The case has been beyond comment while awaiting trial.

This means everyone concerned has been waiting for three years. This comparatively simple matter should not have taken so long, but this is the level of efficiency we find these days in the Department of so-called Justice.

Department of Justice
Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

I draw attention again to the passage in the department’s guidelines for prosecutors which points out that defendants are entitled to be tried within a reasonable time. In some American states, a summary offence like this one would have been time-barred after three years.

An interesting anomaly is that the complainant, a reporter from the Oriental Daily, was allowed to remain anonymous. As the magistrate seems to have found his evidence very unreliable, this seems a bit generous.

It seems that Mr Lai threatened to “mess with” the reporter concerned. The suggestion that he would find someone else to do this was not supported by the video. There is often a video these days. Why did prosecutors not watch it?

Anyway now that the matter is no longer sub judice, I have a few words for the anonymous and unreliable witness.

oriental daily
File Photo: HKFP.

If you are going to call yourself a reporter, this involves rather more than chasing elderly businessmen with a camera and a notebook. You are expected to accept some of the hazards which go with the territory.

Reporting worthy of the name is not always welcome. When I was teaching journalism, I used to show my students a video of the sort of situations which might arise. Some interviewees attacked the reporter; some of them attacked the cameraman.

A reporter who asked a professional wrestler whether wrestling was faked was treated to a demonstration: an “open-handed slap” which floored him. Served him right for asking a stupid question. Everyone has known that professional wrestling was fake since the publication of Mick Foley’s “Have a nice day”, which I warmly recommend.

The point is none of these episodes was followed by a complaint to the police and court proceedings. Sensible reporters accept that their attentions are sometimes extremely unwelcome. People whose private sins are about to become public will get excited.

press freedom hong kong free press
Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Attempts at intimidation are commonplace. We accept it as something which goes with the job.

This is not a matter of physical courage, unless you want to be a front-line war reporter. The conclusion that I drew for my students was that when setting off for work, you should always wear shoes you can run in. But we don’t complain.

Personally, I was generally lucky in this matter. I was in the press box at Millwall FC, a club notorious for supporter violence, when an irate elderly gentleman staggered in with a view to rearranging the local reporter with his walking stick. While the local reporter tried to calm his antagonist down the rest of us laughed hysterically.

I cannot recall being threatened with violence personally. When I was running an investigative team we were occasionally threatened with writs. I discovered a curious paradox: innocent people were happy with a discussion, explanation, and occasionally a clarification putting their side of the story. Crooks on the other hand wanted to sue you.

Sha Tin Racecourse
Sha Tin Racecourse. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club.

I cherish the memory of the company spokesman who was trying to put me off a micro-scoop with the warning that some of his company directors were Jockey Club stewards. It is not done to wisecrack on these occasions but I had great difficulty in resisting the temptation to reply “I am not a horse”.

So, back to Mr X. If you are going to continue in our disreputable profession you must get used to the idea that you will, on occasion, be threatened, warned off, sworn at, or told to do unspeakable things to your mother.

If you have really spent the last three years in a state of psychological disarray because of Mr Lai’s threatening words, then you are too fragile for reporting. I can only suggest that you switch to a less abrasive way of earning a living.

If you have not, and were persuaded to participate in the left-wing campaign to hang something – anything — on Mr Lai, then you lack another basic qualification for journalism, an attachment to the truth.

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.