It has already been there waiting for people to express their opinion concerning social controversies for 15 years.

It is open to all, regardless of age, gender, occupation, education or social status, as long as one is willing to step in.

It has a new topic each time, in which public figures and representatives from various interest groups are invited as guest speakers.

It is City Forum produced by the public and current affairs section of Radio Television Hong Kong. It runs from noon to 1 p.m. outdoors every Sunday, accompanied by live broadcast.

According to Mr. Lee Luen Fai, the host of City Forum as well as the head of the public and current affairs section of RTHK, City Forum is most probably the first open public forum to be broadcast live on television in Hong Kong.

“All citizens have equal chances to speak up here, which enables the forum to be a direct reflection of people’s opinion,” said Mr. Lee.

Said Dr. Leung Wai Yin, a lecturer in Department of Journalism and Communication of The Chinese University of Hong Kong: “Public forums benefit both citizens and the government.

“They arouse citizens’ concern over the discussed topics. Since there is only one issue each time, participants can have a clearer focus.

“Different speakers represent different standpoints. Debates of conflicting interests help the audience to have an extensive picture,” said Dr. Leung.

The social status of the guest speakers may help urging the government to take actions against social problems.

Mr. Lee said, “Apart from the effect on the speakers, various mass media which come for news reporting also help magnify the focus of the topics and arousing public concern.” Not all of the audience make the best use of this chance to voice their beliefs and complaints. Some of the audience are too shy to speak aloud in the crowd.

Ms Chan Nga Jin, 50, a housewife from Hong Kong Island West, said that, although she came, she dared not to be a speaker.

However, many people are still highly enthusiastic in speaking up even without much understanding of the issues.

“I came here just to enjoy talking in a democratic atmosphere,” said Mr. Wong Kam, 70, a metal craftsman from Tsing Yi who has never missed the chance to give his comments in the forum since 1983.

Miss Wong Kit Man, 34, a housewife from Kowloon, watching the debate from the periphery, was attracted by the setting and equipment of a live broadcast programme.

Mr. Lee did not worry that the audience’s various aims or superficial understanding of the subjects would affect City Forum in fulfilling its role.

“The forum welcomes various attitudes. It is a big mix of people with different backgrounds,” said Mr. Lee.

Having been the host of the forum for two years, Mr. Lee is happy about his job.

“Through the programme, I can have a direct contact with people of different walks of life in society. “It is also very exciting because anything out of your imagination can happen in a live broadcast forum,” he said.

The event he remembered most was the debate over the inheritance rights of land in the New Territories. This was because of the extreme reactions from the audience.

Now if one wants to join the programme, one must first phone RTHK to reserve a seat in advance. Mr. Lee denied that this was to control the chaotic proceedings.

“This new procedure is merely used to prevent some audience from reserving extra seats,” he said. Mr. Lee further denied that such a procedure would limit the freedom of speech, because the audience watching in the periphery could also speak up.

Apart from the events at the main locale of City Forum, more channels such as a phone-in service and mobile cameras, which can shoot pictures elsewhere and send pictures back for live broadcast, can be used.

“I hope there will not only be the City Forum but also other public forums,” Mr. Lee concluded.

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