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Editorial : Rumours that obfuscate matters

【明報專訊】THE police's clearance of Prince Edward Station and law enforcement actions there on August 31 have provoked controversy. As rumours circulate on the internet that people were beaten to death that night, violent attacks on the MTR are growing in intensity.

In the post‑truth era, it is easy for truth to be drowned out. The most obvious example recently has been the rumour that "people were killed at the Prince Edward station". Though the government, police and Hospital Authority have clarified the matter one after another, the rumour has not been scotched. Some assert that the Fire Services Department was under political pressure when it said it had counted the number of people hospitalised wrong and amended the number from ten to seven. Over the past few days, several media organisations have, by reviewing CCTV footage, put the events into sequence and confirmed the claim of the Fire Services Department — there were indeed seven people who were hospitalised via Lai Chi Kok Station. The three people who were "unaccounted for" are suspected to have been treated as the victims of ordinary assault and hospitalised via Yau Ma Tei Station. All of them were well.

Some rumours are obviously linguistic misunderstanding. It is no doubt easier to quash the rumour that "the Monetary Authority no longer discloses information about the outflow of Hong Kong dollars from Hong Kong." However, as for some rumours including that the police ordered the captain of a bus to block the camera and that a protester went into a coma because of a broken neck, the truth might not be known immediately. In an atmosphere that "those who disbelieve will continue to disbelieve", these rumours can remain in circulation for a certain period of time. As for the rumours that "people were killed at Prince Edward Station" and that "a young woman was shot in the eye", they are most serious in nature. If no action is taken to bring out the whole truth, the hate will keep deepening and this will have profound and long‑lasting consequences for society. At Prince Edward Station, the police "sealed off the crime scene" citing the need to chase suspects, prohibiting journalists from staying and covering the incident. It is debatable whether such an action was prudent. The police said that the presence of journalists would "obstruct enforcement of the law". But that also prevented the media from gaining knowledge of the situations of the injured immediately, giving rise to rumours.

From the perspective of truth restoration, if the MTR makes public CCTV footage filmed that night, it will, theoretically, help put an end to rumours. But the MTR has to be circumspect when handling the matter and pay attention to all factors. After the incident at New Town Plaza in July, Sun Hung Kai Properties made public CCTV footage as proof that its staff did not guide police into the mall to let them take law‑enforcement actions. And in the aftermath of the attacks at Yuen Long Station on the West Rail Line, over 700 train captains signed a petition demanding that the MTR offer an explanation, and the MTR wrote a letter to its staff with screenshots of CCTV footage attached. In the former instance, the company did so to vindicate itself. In the latter, it was a limited publication of information to the employees. In both cases, the corporations acted in their own interests. But now the MTR is considering whether to release the footage to a third party (the police and the arrested) because of political pressure from the outside. So the incident is not entirely the same in nature. A barrister has pointed out that a more feasible thing to do is for a concerned party to follow established procedure by invoking the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance to demand that the MTR provide the footage. Recently the MTR's facilities have been repeatedly vandalised and the company has been subjected to threats of violence. If the MTR intends to release the footage, not only should it take pains to protect data about people's facial features and other private information, but it should also prevent any mismanagement lest it should set a bad precedent.

明報社評2019.09.10:「太子站打死人」 流言蜚語惑人心

8.31太子站警方清場執法引起爭議,網上出現懷疑有人被打死的傳言,針對港鐵的暴力攻擊愈演愈烈。

後真相時代,真相的確很易被淹沒,「太子站打死人」是近期最明顯一個例子。儘管政府、警方、醫管局連番澄清,但是傳言並未止息。有人堅稱消防處是受到政治壓力,才說「點錯」送院傷者數目,由10人變成7人。過去數天,不同傳媒機構重組事件,包括翻查閉路電視畫面,證實了消防處說法,當日確有7人經荔枝角站送院,「不知去向」的3人,疑被當作一般打鬥事件的傷者,經油麻地站送院,眾人均無大礙。

有些傳言明顯屬於語言誤解,像「金管局不再披露港元資產流出香港資訊」等,當然較易澄清,可是亦有一些指控,諸如警察勒令巴士車長遮蔽攝錄鏡頭、示威者頸骨折斷昏迷等,真相未必迅即曝光,在「不信者恒不信」氛圍下,隨時可以發酵一段時間;至於「太子站死人」,以及早前「爆眼女子」事件,由於性質太嚴重,若不盡快讓真相水落石出,只會令仇恨不斷加深,對社會帶來深遠傷害。太子站事件,當日警方以追捕疑犯為由「封鎖犯罪現場」,不准記者留下採訪,做法是否明智值得商榷。警方認為記者在場會「妨礙執法」,可是這亦令到傳媒無法迅即了解傷者情况,令流言滋生。

從還原真相角度而言,港鐵公開當晚閉路電視片段,理論上有助澄清傳言,然而港鐵處理必須審慎周全,兼顧各方面因素。7月新城市廣場事件,新地公開閉路電視片段,證明職員並非帶警察入商場執法;西鐵元朗站襲擊事件,逾700車長聯署要求公司交代,事後港鐵向員工發信並附上閉路電視截圖。前者涉及公司自證清白,後者則是向員工有限度發放說明材料,兩者都是出於企業自身考慮;相比之下,現在港鐵是因為外來政治壓力,考慮是否公開針對第三方(警方及被捕者)片段,事件性質並不完全一樣。有大律師指出,當事人根據私隱條例,按程序要求港鐵提供閉路電視片段,是較為可行做法。近期港鐵屢遭破壞,甚至受到暴力脅逼。港鐵若要公開片段,除了小心保障個人容貌私隱,亦要避免處理不當,留下不良先例。

■Glossary

drown out : to be louder than other sounds so that you cannot hear them

circumspect : thinking carefully about sth before doing it, in order to avoid risk

precedent : a similar action or event that happened earlier

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