An Interview with Ng Chi-sum

Unsurprisingly, he was not in his signature female disguise. In a light blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a sporty backpack on one shoulder, Mr Ng Chi-sum, a host of the Headliner, kicked off his day of work at Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) at 2.30 pm, and it would have been an hour later if it were not for the interview. But he was neither late nor lazy.

“I work almost 24/7, because I always keep an eye, if not both, on the news during my off-hours; it happened to be what I love to do as well, fortunately,” said Mr Ng, who is also the host of a radio programme and a columnist in two newspapers.

Being more than an iconic face on TV every Saturday night, Mr Ng usually writes at home in the morning for his columns, in Ming Pao and Apple Daily, which generally comprise his comments on current affairs in Hong Kong.

He will then head off to his office, a cubicle in the Broadcasting House of RTHK, where he collaborates with his colleagues on his radio phone-in show, “Zi Yao Feng, Zi Yao Phone”, broadcasting live at 5 pm every weekday.

On occasional Fridays he will, finally, put on costumes and makeup for the shooting of the Headliner, the popular satire programme in which he dresses as an empress dowager.

“Some people say I’m a funny person and some would say strict; but I’d rather say I’ve always been a serious person about what I do,” he said, making engaging facial expressions under his plastic frame glasses as he talked.

He may hold a pen, a microphone and act in front of a camera in different occasions, but one thing does not change­—Mr Ng seems to take aim at the government very often.

“I’ve offended a lot of people through my comments over the years, they can be governors or real estate developers, ” he said and laughed. “But if there’s anybody who’s worked in this field for 20 years without offending anybody, it is more of a failure, indeed.”

Mr Ng said until the date he was interviewed, there were about 50 articles, mostly from two pro-China newspapers, that blatantly criticized him for how he criticized other parties.

“Very often I analysed an issue and suggested what might be the cause of the problem; but some people just don’t understand it and mistake it for stirring anger,” he said.

Mr Ng denied the allegation of having stirred up anger against the rich in his articles and radio programme, and went on to talk about how developer hegemony may cause some social problems in Hong Kong.

“If you talk about the bad practice of developers, sometimes they’d just withdraw their advertisements from your newspaper or magazine,” he said, adding that this is not the only source of pressure that may hinder writers’ expression of their opinions these days.

“The atmosphere in the profession has changed a lot in the past 20 years, people have become more likely to self-censor what they produce, and some do it without even knowing it,” he said.

He disagreed that he is a man who dares to speak.

“Hong Kong’s still a reasonably free city for the media, I can say many things and nothing would really harm me. It’s not like some places where your life may be threatened if you say something ‘wrong’,” he said. “The ones who risk their lives doing so are truly ‘dare to speak’.”

However brave he seems when he – in countless occasions – confronted the government and developers, would almost definitely quit his job if one of his nightmares come true.

“The loss of freedom to express my opinions is what I fear the most, I’d rather quit my job if, someday, my boss or the board comes to me and asks me to say this and that,” he said with his arms folded.

He said such an intervention with editorial freedom had never actually happened to him in RTHK, but he is pessimistic about the future of Hong Kong media.

“Look at how the government appointed an AO to head RTHK recently, this is unacceptable,” he said, and explained his worries by exemplifying the deterioration of freedom of press.

“Police blocking reporter’s camera, searching reporters, and arresting them, these almost never happened in the past,” he said.

As dull as the future of the profession may seems to be, Mr Ng foresees the need of good journalists in the future of Hong Kong. Despite saying that reporters has always underpaid since the old days, he encourages prospect younger generations to take on the challenge.

“Those who wants to work in the media profession must have a mindset to endure the high pressure and workload, but it’s a very rewarding job because you can keep the society from going down,” Mr Ng said.

Inside his cubicle, on top of one of the stacks of books on his working desk, there was a photo of an alpaca, which has been widely used as symbolic defiance of the Internet censorship in China. Holding and looking at the photo in his hands, he explained that he kept it after the shooting of an episode of the Headliner.

Mr Ng graduated from Chinese University of Hong Kong with a Biology degree. When he was a student, he wrote as a reporter for the Student Union’s newspaper. He continued to work as a reporter after he graduated. Ironically, his first job was to report news for a pro-China magazine.

Having been a reporter for TVB and a host of a few RTHK radio shows, he had been seriously criticized for being a pan-democratic mouthpiece on his radio shows and television show on RTHK, using public resources for his own desire. He was even accused of, by a pro-China newspaper, libeling Li Ka-shing, a wealthy business magnate from Hong Kong in early 2011, he said earlier in an interview by Inmedia.