[SOPA series - Mr Ernest Chi ]Investigation in the light and dark

"Investigation in the light and dark"

 The Society of Publishers in Asia, which is also known as SOPA, presented this year's award, under the topic: Investigative Reporting in Asia.

One of the HKBU-SOPA Award Winners, Mr. Ernest Chi, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Investigative Team Leader of Ming Pao shared his experience in doing the investigative reports on the illegal structure controversy concerning Chief Executive candidates Henry Tang and C.Y. Leung, shared their awarded pieces and participated in lectures and discussions last week.

Being the only awarded Chinese editor in this year's Excellence in Investigative Reporting 2013, Mr. Chi, starts his sharing by introducing different investigative reports done by Ming Pao in past few years.

Capture They have reported on the rigged purchases of Henderson Land's luxurious residential, privatization plan of PCCW, vote rigging in the district council election, the death of Li Wang-yang and the abused entertainment funds usage of the ex-chief of ICAC Timothy Tong during his term of office.

 The piece that has created the biggest controversy and impact in the society should be the investigative report on the illegal structures of the Chief Executive election candidates in 2012.

According to Mr. Chi, "it is common to find illegal structures in the city. But standing on the moral high ground, Chief Executive candidates should defense the law, and they failed to do so."

An estate reporter in Mr. Chi's investigation team knew from an architect that there were some illegal basements in villas located in Kowloon Tong. And the villa of Chief Executive candidates Henry Tang, located on York Road was one of them.

His team tried to track down all the sources to proof the illegal basement's existence.

Since Mr. Tang's cellar was used to store wine, they had planed to send bottles of wine as a gift to him. By helping to transport those wines into the cellar, they could get in the cellar and get some useful information.

But their plan failed because of the very smart housekeeper in Mr. Tang's flat who answered the door.

They sent letters to the PR of Mr. Tang to obtain information about the basement but those PR denials the existence of the cellar.

In order to get more information about the cellar, they flew a remote controlled helicopter at York Road to take bird's-eye view pictures. They tried to connect with the construction workers who had worked at the site and know about the cellar. After that, Mr. Chi's team sent letters to the PR of Mr. Tang and those PR were alert to the matter.

The case broke out in the media and politicians lost their credibility.

Mr. Chi indicated that there's a growing concern on the problem of resources. "More and more experienced reporters left. New reporters who have just worked for eight to nine months are like boy scots and girl guides. They have great passion but don't know what themselves are doing."

As a professional reporter who has been working as a journalist since 1994, he thinks that reporters are becoming paparazzi and news becomes infotainment. "It may be the time for media to go back to the origin. False information cannot last long, only news can stand."

"There are some people who need reliable information. If our news always remains as fraud, the whole society will be distorted and became restlessness. We should be more incisive but have more connotations at the same time."

When asked the future of the newspaper in the Q&A sessions, he predicts the newspaper is dying because of the development of desktop and mobile apps. "Print media is needed because it can report in a more subtle way. But ‘plagiarism' has become ‘sharing' in the social media. We should ride on the Facebook to find the way out."

But he did not agree to allow free access for all the online news. "Free news in Facebook and Housenews originate from paid information provided by traditional newspaper or upstream information source like Reuters. Resource is needed for providing valuable information. So in the short run, we will not unlock those paid news in the websites."

One of the most special question asked was Ming Pao is described as Foxconn and what's his opinion on that. Mr. Chi's reply was very straightforward.

He admitted that it is factory servitude and the ecology of media industry is very exhausted. "Even if we report on exclusive news, they cannot be turned into money. Instead all we can get is just a ‘share' and a ‘like' (in the social media). The market environment will force us to change in the future."

He did not agree new comers to endure the industry because of dreams. "I encourage my colleagues to study postgraduates and advanced studies to leave the backdoor open. I believe the number of reporters in the whole industry will drop in the future. When people can get information for free everywhere, who will be the one to pay for it?"

Reported by Aska Cheong

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