On June 9th, 2016, the scandalous story of “[Hong Kong] Villas occupied by former [HK gov] official and wealthy businessmen ‘built illegally’ on government land in prized Tai Tam area” and “前高官商人佔用大潭官地建豪宅逾30年” (Chinese version) was reported by FactWire news agency. This FactWire investigative report (2nd story since launch on 1st March, 2016) was widely quoted and used by other media immediately including the likes of Apple Daily Real Time News 蘋果日報即時新聞, HK Free Press, Oriental Daily 東方日報, RTHK, and RTHK interview gov official (video). A great news report that immediately grabbed headlines and generated major discussions in HK.
And two days in a row (June 10th and June 11) Apple Daily 蘋果日報 put the illegal villas news on front page (page A1) and came out with a series of stories (most with videos). June 10th (5 articles): “地署縱容30年 前高官 富豪 霸官地寮屋變豪宅“, “勞處前高層豪宅原是豬舍“, “「亞洲英雄」曾帶電視台參觀萬呎樂園“, “石澳五村20年前通知收回“, “寮屋私下轉讓改建嚴重“. June 11th (3 articles): “前高官 富豪 佔地兼霸海 毀海岸建渡頭“, “前高官稱親手修葺“, and “議員指涉犯六宗罪“.
Former Apple Daily Reporter’s 2013 & 2015 work
One of the pivotal (but less known) figures is former Apple Daily reporter Kwan Chun Hoi (關震海) which first took the photo at the top of this article, an important photo taken in 2013 January 30 which documented the much less damaged coastline in 2013. Yes, close to three and a half years ago.
Last Friday night (June 10th, 2016) Calgary time (i.e. Saturday morning HK time), this reporter took the initiative to ask for and get an interview with Kwan. We chatted for almost 2 hours to talk about this news and also a wide range of topics (including Kwan’s views on investigative reporting in HK which I may write about later if I have time).
Kwan was clear from the outset that he wanted to set the records straight on some key investigative facts and dates and he wasn’t trying to claim credit for his earlier investigative work. Quoting Kwan’s own words in his Chinese Facebook post (“【揭發前高官霸地三十年之爆料人的自白】”), from early Monday HK morning June 13th,
News Delayed is … Justice Delayed/Denied?
Unbeknownst to most HongKongers, according to Kwan, the identity of one of the villa owners Mak Sai-yiu (麥世耀), a former Assistant Commissioner for Labour (勞工處前助理處長), had been confirmed in 2015 June and the fact that villas are illegally built has never been doubted.
So this news could have been reported in June 2015 but didn’t. Kwan felt bad for the insider who gave him the lead more than 3 years ago and wrote,
The importance of the 2013 photo
Kwan’s 2013 January 30th photo is very important because it shows the status of the coastal area in front of theTung Ah Pui Village (東丫背村) villas compared to what they look like now in June of 2016. In case the villas owners are called in front of courts to answer for any potential charges against them, Kwan’s news photos may become part of the evidences to support any potential criminal or civil charges.
When did this investigation REALLY start?
The June 11th Apple Daily “前高官 富豪 佔地兼霸海 毀海岸建渡頭” report states August 2015 (“本報去年8月起偵查石澳東丫背村遭人霸地擴建寮屋，多次追問地政總署有關違例情況”).
If it were up to this reporter, the investigate report started in 2013/01/30 (or earlier) when Kwan took the photo (or when the lead was given to him be his informant) even there is a big long time where nothing happened until 2015.
According to Kwan, he hidden camera interviewed Mak on May 27th, 2015 so the investigation should have at least started in May 2015. And the identity of Mak was confirmed in June to July 2015. So it is incorrect for Apple Daily to report that it started the investigation in August 2015.
Getting facts straight and the trouble with “reasonable doubt”
Dates, times, and facts are important to get straight. Kwan was upset with seeing many of these being incorrectly stated. This reporter raised the issue of “reasonable doubt” if criminal charges were to be laid. And Kwan agreed that the inconsistent dates could potential lead to troubles down the road in court proceedings as inconsistencies may lead to “reasonable doubt”.
Which is one of the reasons why Kwan agreed to talk to this reporter so he can try to set some of the records straight since he was involved (counting elapsed time) in this news for close to 3.5 years.
In my in-depth and wide ranging interview/chat with Kwan, many topics were discussed including “investigative reporting”. This reporter mentioned the case where even the widely respected CBS 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace tarnished his own reputation in the Big Tobacco story (with CBS video) and was the basis for the Hollywood movie “The Insider“. Most reporters (especially those in HK) don’t have the clout like what Wallace had since Wallace could have done more to try to force or guide CBS 60 Minutes to do the right thing but he didn’t do enough, which explains why Big Tobacco is still seen as a reminder for some reporters to try to do the right thing.
3) A low resolution (video screen captured) version of the lead photo (high-res 4080 x 2720) at the top of this post.
4) The date and time code information embedded in the lead photo (high-res 4080 x 2720) at the top of this post.