Choy says that in the 1970s, university students saw themselves as members of an elite with a responsibility to contribute to society. But with the expansion of tertiary education in the 1990s, the number of university students greatly increased. The students’ sense of their elite status weakened, drawing university students closer to mainstream culture.
The games that are condemned for crossing a moral line are just reflecting mainstream culture. Therefore, Choy believes society, and the media, can hardly blame students for playing offensive games.
He cites the example of newspapers which emphasize the social expectation placed on university students and which also criticize them for being immoral and playing inappropriate games. These same newspapers, says Choy, publish photos of pseudo-models with sexually suggestive headlines on their pages to attract readers. This is the same media, says Choy, that have been influencing the students from a young age.
Dr Chan Ho-yin of CUHK’s joint committee overseeing o’camp activities agrees that students are easily affected by advertisements and television programmes. He mentions the popular TVB game show series Super Trio as an example, as many of the games played in orientation camps are copied from the show.
Dr Chan points out that the public is fine with celebrities playing these sexually provocative games on TV, but it becomes unacceptable or inappropriate when university students play them.
Former journalist Louis Li Chun-wai laments what he says is the deterioration of media standards. Li says it is a media strategy to single out university students, because most newspaper readers are parents and members of the older generation who are more conservative. They have high expectations of university students as the future pillars of society, so they are concerned about negative stories involving university students.
Li says cut-throat competition has led to less in-depth reporting. Unbalanced or unsubstantiated stories are splashed on front pages under sensational headlines.
One example was Apple Daily’s front-page lead which accused the orientation camp of the physics department at CUHK of causing a 19-year-old girl’s suicide. The story did not offer any evidence for the claim. “I heard that the journalist who was responsible for reporting this case in Apple Daily, also says he does not know [the reason for suicide],” Li says.
The story caused great anger among CUHK students, some of whom threatened a boycott of Apple Daily. The students’ association of the physics department complained to the Hong Kong Journalists Association about the case. The association ruled the report was misleading and asked the paper to apologise. The Apple Daily stood by its report, but it acknowledged the headline was debatable. It did not apologise.
Today’s o’camps arouse strong feelings and opinions from those who take part in them and those who observe and criticize from the outside. One person’s subculture is another person’s proof of moral decay.
According to David Wong Chun-tung, a former director-general of the Hong Kong Press Council who now teaches at CUHK, both the students and the media need to be careful not to cross the line.
The orientation camp organisers should be careful not to pressure freshmen into doing things that make them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, while the media should report fairly and without making value judgements.
“It is very important to respect each other,” says Wong.