Former Australian rugby player Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins has been accused of “endorsing a government that is violating human rights” after starring in a Covid-blind Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) campaign.
The three-part video series called “Honey Badger x Hong Kong,” in which Cummins visits tourist attractions and tries his hand at martial art Wing Chun, was unlisted from YouTube, meaning that the clips could be watched by those with a link but did not appear on the HKTB channel. They were uploaded last Friday and have garnered several hundred views each.
“Want to travel like a local?” Cummins asks in one video, before adding, “Ride the Ding Ding,” while sitting aboard the tram – face-mask free – wearing a straw hat and holding a silk fan. Commenters on social media were quick to note Cummins’ lack of face covering, which is currently mandatory just about everywhere, including on public transport and outside.
“This video is for advertising and creative purposes only,” the blurb beneath the video reads. “Please wear a mask and comply with the latest regulations and guidelines issued by the HKSAR Government.”
Cummins hops from the tram to the Star Ferry before heading to Sham Shui Po, where he visits vinyl devotee Ah Paul, orders cheung fan at Hop Yik Tai and peruses the electronics on offer at Apliu Street, “where the locals go treasure hunting.”
In a still image that accompanied news coverage of the video series, Cummins appears to be raising a bowl of beer in the recently shuttered Tung Po Kitchen. The decades-old eatery – which was HKTB-approved – was forced to close last month after the Food and Environmental Health Department said it had violated the terms of its tenancy agreement.
According to marketing industry magazine Mumbrella, the campaign, which was supposed to run from October 5 to November 28, was “designed to get Aussie travellers excited to get back to Hong Kong soon.”
However, it appeared to strike a nerve among some. Jane Poon, who runs the Australia-Hong Kong Line, a community “that supports democracy, freedom, rule of law and human right[s]” in Hong Kong, told Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald that Cummins’ was “endorsing a government that is violating human rights.”
“The people of the city are actually struggling because of what the government is doing. By taking these jobs celebrities are endorsing a government that is condemned by the international community,” Poon reportedly said.
Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui, who left the city in 2020 while on bail and ultimately settled Australia, told The Sydney Morning Herald: “I have sympathy for those businesses, especially the small businesses. But the ads are treating Hong Kong as if nothing has happened.”
“It’s not business as usual at all. It’s a very depressing situation Hong Kong is experiencing,” Hui told the paper, adding that “Considering all the brutal crackdowns Hong Kong has had in the past three years, Hong Kong is not as glamorous as it was before.”
Hui was sentenced in absentia to three years and six months in prison for contempt of court last Thursday.
A spokesperson for HKTB told HKFP that the video series had been launched on Wednesday by its Sydney office “on Cummins’s social media story… and is yet to be listed on YouTube for further circulation.”
The series was produced in January 2020, the spokesperson said, “with a view to promoting Hong Kong’s diverse experience… with a local Australian rugby athlete to better engage consumers in the source market, at a time when anti-pandemic measures were yet to be in place in Hong Kong.”
As the pandemic worsened and restrictions were brought in, the promotional videos were shelved. However, with the recent relaxation of some entry requirements and ahead of the Hong Kong Sevens in early November, “HKTB’s Sydney Office rolled out the video series with an aim to promote Hong Kong as an international travel destination.”
HKFP has reached out the Australian creative agency behind the videos, Always Human, for comment.
Hong Kong dropped its controversial hotel quarantine for arrivals in late September, marking the end to a Covid-19 policy blamed for undermining the city’s international status and battering its economy, which is expected to take some time to recover. On Wednesday, charity Oxfam Hong Kong released its latest poverty report, revealing that the wealth gap had widened during the pandemic.
Restrictions remain in place for inbound travellers, who are now subject to three days of “medical surveillance” upon arrival, during which they are issued with an amber QR code via the government’s contact tracing app that bars them from entering places such as restaurants, gyms or bar. The “0+3” arrangement, as it is known, is not expected to draw tourists to the city.
Residents, too, must adhere to social distancing measures, including a four-person limit on group gatherings, mandatory mask-wearing, and the use of a Vaccine Pass to enter certain types of premises.
Hong Kong’s civil society has largely collapsed since the enactment of the national security law in June 2020, with at least 58 organisations –including unions, churches, media groups, and political parties – disbanding since 2021. This has drawn international criticism, most recently from the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which issued a report condemning the “devastating effect” the legislation had on “Hong Kong’s once-dynamic society.”
The Hong Kong government described the report as “totally biased,” and said human rights and the rule of law were protected under the security law and that any suggestions to the contrary were “totally unsubstantiated.”
Freedom of the press has also suffered, with a recent index released by the Hong Kong Journalists Association revealing that 97 per cent of media workers in the city believed that the press freedom environment had gotten “much worse” in the past year, while 53.5 per cent of the public indicated the same sentiment.
The city’s leader, Chief Executive John Lee, has repeatedly said that press freedom is not under threat, however. Speaking at an event last month for the media industry to celebrate China’s upcoming National Day, Lee told invited journalists to deliver the “right Hong Kong message” to the world.
During his speech, Lee warned reporters to distinguish right from wrong and keep their distance from “fake media” and “bad elements” that “destroy press freedom.”
Authorities have said that they are looking into enacting a “fake news” law to combat misinformation. Critics say such legislation could be weaponised to crack down on news outlets and further stifle press freedom.
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