Family life in the Hong Kong Media

The Hong Kong media don’t pay enough attention to family life, are too negative and tend to blame families rather than other factors for society’s problems.

Those are the findings of the JMSC’s report Portrayals of the Family in the Hong Kong Media. The year long, Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust funded research project looked into how newspapers and other local media report family issues. It is part of a wider project run by Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health to develop successful interventions to promote societal harmony through families.

The study was chaired by JMSC Assistant Professor Thomas Abraham, who is also Director of the Public Health Communication Project. He was assisted by two researchers, Lilian Kwok and K.C. Ho. They did a quantitative and qualitative study of the Apple Daily, Ming Pao, Oriental Daily, SCMP, ATV and TVB over a six month period.

“If an issue is never reported on in the mass media, it is difficult to see how society will come to know about this issue and regard it as important enough for action to be taken. Interventions to improve family harmony are more likely to be successful if the issue is already on the public agenda, and if the public regards it as important enough to do something about.”

The quantitative study found that the Hong Kong media devote less than 3% of their time to family issues, and the issues covered are grim: conflict, delinquency, domestic violence, suicide and murder.  Hardly any news reporting held a positive message about families.

“There is a serious lack of positive news, including advice on building harmonious and healthy families.”

The qualitative study looked at how the media portray perceptions of the causes and remedies of family related problems. The study focused on elderly abuse, problems involving cross-border families and juvenile delinquency. It also looked at the Tin Shui Wai tragedy of 2007, in which a mother threw her two small children out of a high-rise block in a low income housing colony before jumping to her death. This case in particular provoked more detailed social analysis in the press.

The study found that while there is little attention paid to family related issues in the press, there is a tendency to blame the individual rather than to look for any underlying social cause.

“If misfortune and bad families are blamed for all these ills, then social interventions are of no use, since these are not factors that can be improved through social interventions. It is suggested that a public education effort through media and other channels be conducted to raise awareness of the social roots of these problems, and the interventions that can be used to remedy them.”

The report also recommends that a strategy is developed to increase media awareness of family issues and that journalists are encouraged to bring neglected, lower profile issues like intergenerational relations onto the public agenda. It also suggests that the press tries to up the coverage of positive family news and to dig deeper into the social and political causes of problems instead of always blaming individual family members.

–Angharad Law