Let’s start by what could be deemed “positive news” by some: despite (or because) of last week’s upheavals — the dreadful challenges brought about by undeviating Typhoon Hato — Macao society has demonstrated a remarkable resilience capacity: ill-prepared, confronted with overwhelming threats to their safety and earthly possessions, deprived of reliable information both before and at the time of the devastating gale, ordinary citizens unintentionally raised to hero status by displaying the very traits that make us so distinctively humane: our propensity to empathise and our moral urge to exert solidarity.
Overall, mutual aid prevailed over petty self-centred interests, and images of ordinary bravery were on par with frightening snapshots of destruction. Then came the news of three persons having lost their life, ultimately climbing to ten victims. Ten too many, and yet cleaning up started, mainly induced by grassroots and neighbourhood initiatives.
Civil security forces untiringly joined hands with residents — permanent as well as blue-card holders — soon to be seconded by PLA soldiers unprecedentedly called in to provide much-needed relief. The city as a whole was bracing for a second impact as Typhoon Pakhar was fast approaching and even though discontent was starting to grow, the collective bond weathered the storm, undistracted by the lingering bitter taste of incomprehension and unfairness.
These are indeed “uplifting” news. Dare I say not quite surprising? Despite the lamentations regarding the teaching of history and the ambiguities of a holistic destiny for our SAR, there is indeed a shared collective memory in and of Macao, one that is expressly connected to typhoons and the threats they represent, one that flows downhill from the Guia Lighthouse beside which typhoon signals have been hoisted since the end of the nineteenth century.
But positive news is not propaganda, quite the contrary. Positive news is produced by journalists whose stories help put on an equal footing the bright and the dark sides of current affairs. Positive news has the ambition, as one motto goes, to “offer quality, independent reporting on progress and possibility.” It is not and should not be a self-mutilating effort at not reporting the ugly side of things, and it is just an attempt at tilting the balance back towards constructive thinking, but certainly not a replacement for a more critical if not confrontational approach.
When the authorities prevent five Hong Kong journalists from entering the territory on the ground that they ‘pose a risk to the stability of internal security’, they are simply trying to sweep back the dirt under the rug while conspiring against freedom of information and crippling our Basic Law. Contrary to what secretary Wong says, these were not “any” individuals, but the stories they published in Apple Daily, HK01 and the South China Morning Post had indeed been relentlessly exposing the shortcomings of the Macao government in the early hours of the disaster and the ineptness of the (non-existent) preventive measures at a time when most of the households were entirely deprived of clean water and electricity.
When the Macao Media Workers Association denounces in a public statement the documented pressures exerted over five local media editors to encourage more “positive news” and shield the Chief Executive from any criticism for the sake of public order and social harmony, they are denouncing blatant attempts at censorship and induced self-censorship.
Threatening would be rumourmongers and arresting three elders and a teenager for circulating hair-raising fallacies over WeChat about additional victims instil more doubts than certainties. Rumours do not initially feed on themselves. As social scientists reckon, they spread through “social cascades” and “group polarisation”, and the primary causes are the lack of transparency and trustworthy information.
When will they learn?