Leung made a speech on the stage during the anti national education movement in 2012. He later discovered that media reports of what he had said made him sound more radical than he actually was. It was only then that he realised that celebrities have to mind what they say as their words can be distorted or cherry-picked to favour the political leanings of media organisations.
As Hong Kong becomes increasingly polarised, demonising those in the opposing camp is common in both the conservative and pan-democratic sides of the divide. “I have a lot to say on the Umbrella Movement. But if they [my thoughts] are expressed in other channels, they may turn into something different,” says Leung.
Leung says he will keep saying what he believes is right on his own radio show Good Morning King rather than through other media. But what artists may fear even more than media distortion is public expectations. A political stance can now become a social label.
Even those celebrities who do not have a conspicuous stance or claim to be neutral cannot escape; people will expect them to take a side. “Everything is like either in black or white. There isn’t any grey zone,” says Leung.
He explains reporters will sometimes call the artists and ask what their stance on a particular issue is, pushing them into a certain political camp. “Artists are frightened. They cannot stay neutral because everyone is forcing them to take sides,” he says “When they are afraid, they step back.”
This is another reason why many celebrities are reluctant to reveal their position even if they have a thorough understanding of the issues.
Apart from the media and the public, Leung has fallen foul of mainland authorities.To perform in the Mainland, artists are required to have a certificate of approval from the Ministry of Culture in advance. Originally, Leung was going be the master of ceremonies in a beauty contest organised by the Shenzhen television station CUTV in December. But the job was cancelled because Leung could not get the required approval.
It so happened that Leung’s name was one of those on a list of many Hong Kong artists which was circulated on social media in October. The list was believed to be a blacklist of pro-democratic artists who had been backing the Umbrella Movement.
The mainland entertainment market is now far more lucrative than Hong Kong. CUHK’s Anthony Fung says the rise of the Internet has made the production and sale of CDs less profitable, so most artists rely on live performances as a major source of income. Those who support democratic causes may have to sacrifice their income.
Yet for some artists, like Denise Ho and Stephen Au, the spirit of “I’ll make less then” means it is a price worth paying to say what they believe needs to be said – and their fans, as well as the media will be hanging onto every word.
Edited by Jeffrey Loa