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






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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