Health Scare

Two years ago I complained about President’s horrible Ambassador product (I can believe its not butter) and here it is in an SCMP report

Almost 20 spreads sold in Hong Kong ‘could increase your risk of cancer’

GlycidolAt least 18 margarine products sold in shops in Hong Kong contain glycidol, a substance thought to cause cancer, and at least 16 carry a by-product [3-MCPD] that can harm kidneys and male fertility, the Consumer Council said on Monday.

The watchdog revealed the findings from tests done last October on 30 items – nine types of butter and 21 products containing margarine. The latter comprised 16 margarine spreads, four blended spreads and one sample of shortening.

[..]  The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) is set to publish its standards for glycidol intake this year. Last year it recommended that the intake of the by-product 3-MCPD should be no more than 120 micrograms per day for adults.

3-MCPD comes about when refining edible oils and is found in noodles, chips and even infant formula.

Among the samples, President’s Ambassador Salted Culinary Fat Blend contained the most 3-MCPD at 1,100mcg per kg.

As I said two years ago, I really don’t understand why a respectable company such as President is selling this product in packaging that looks just like butter (and that was when I knew it contained trans fats, but didn’t know about the glycidol and 3-MCPD).  Seriously, what’s wrong with them?

Having said that, the risk is quite low:

But a person would still have to eat 24 teaspoons of the fat blend in a day to exceed the ESFA’s guidelines, the council said.  “With normal consumption, the impact on health is minimal,” Wong Kam-fai added.

SCMP still printing nonsense

I don’t normally read the South China Morning Post, but I came across an actual printed copy so I glanced through it, and what a delight it continues to be.

Oxfam Haiti sex scandal arose from arrogance, but cuts to funding are not the answer

The Oxfam sex scandal has highlighted sexual abuse and exploitation by staff at the British-based charity in Haiti, after an earthquake ravaged the country in 2010. It also exposes the arrogant culture and lack of accountability in the aid sector.

The reason the sector is so vulnerable to such allegations is that it is too often consecrated. Oxfam uses “ending poverty” as slogan to rally for funding and support. As a charity, it is often seen as a representation of the “good” and “sacred”. It was not expected to do harm to society. This explains why it has fallen so far from grace recently.

Such an incident reveals not only that aid workers have been sexually abusive in local fields, but that they are using their position to exploit the most vulnerable.

Believe it or not, this is not an isolated incident.

I was expecting some revelation here.  There is nothing.

When aid workers from the developed world are sent into the developing world, this possibly breeds a sense of exceptionalism. Coming from the “better” outside world, as well as under the aim of “saving the world”, aid workers are inclined to do things differently than they otherwise would do back home.

Well, that’s hardly a revelation.  I am sure many people behave differently when away from home.

Some even believe that they are godlike saviours for the locals, reinforcing the image of white fantasies with the mission of civilising the global south. They are left to their own devices to operate freely in such yet-to-be-liberated spaces. Some even perceive themselves as above the local norms and laws.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Amid such a power hierarchy, incidents such as these are probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Probably.  Probably!

Still, a few black sheep do not justify cutting off funding to Oxfam and the entire sector. Cutting off funding will not help curb sexual exploitation by workers on the ground, but mostly affect the vulnerable populations who require help.

This under-supervised industry requires a structural overhaul. It is also important to realise the overhaul shall not be based on an event, but be a long-term process of constant evaluations.

The way forward is not only to improve the transparency of the organisation and sector, but for the management in these organisations to articulate new and renewed commitments, to their process, the core vision and values.

Neville Lai, Ho Man Tin

Why does the SCMP print letters from people who have no particular insight into a subject?  What’s the point?

And then there was this:

Hong Kong reaps HK$380 million bonanza thanks to overseas visitors at Sevens

…and even more visitors could be among the 40,000-strong crowd each day this weekend (April 6-8) as the Cathay Pacific/HSBC-sponsored showpiece is sandwiched between Easter and Cheng Ming Festival when many Hongkongers tend to travel abroad.

The Rugby Sevens are after Ching Ming (which is on Thursday).  So, not sandwiched at all.  Do carry on.   

[..] Tickets sold out for the 13th year in a row despite initial fears over the event’s proximity to major public holidays.

“We had a few concerns over the Easter break [March 30 to April 1] and Cheng Ming Festival [also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival, April 2],” said McRobbie after the unveiling of an enormous “floating” rugby ball in Victoria Harbour. “But it has not been as negative as we thought it would be at one point.

That’s Thursday 5th April, by the way.  And it’s normally called Ching Ming.

Then there was this totally baffling headline:


That’s just a random jumble of words (if you need a clue, “Holy See” means the Vatican). 

In the online version they abandoned all efforts to write a snappy headline and went with the extremely verbose "Controversial bishops deal could still be on track after Beijing signals it hopes for progress in Vatican talks" which even I can understand.

Not a 25% increase in anything

I am not sure whether the SCMP simply doesn’t understand (see also the so-called “Sha Tin to Central” link) or whether they really love clickbait. 

Fees at ESF schools in Hong Kong could rise by as much as 25 per cent next year

South China Morning Post | 28 March 2018 | Peace Chiu

The biggest group of international schools catering to English-speaking children has proposed fee increases of up to 24.7 per cent as the loss of its government ­subvention affects Primary Three level.

This means that the English Schools Foundation could charge parents of Year Three pupils HK$111,200 for the school year starting in August, compared with HK$89,200 this year.

It's nonsense, of course.  The actual increase is about 4.5%.

Why?  Because you need to compare the fees for students who are currently in year 2 with fees for the same students when they transfer from Year 2 to Year 3 at the start of the new school year in August.

If you compare students in next year’s Year 3 with current Y3 students then, yes, they are paying higher fees.  That’s because of the long-drawn out way that the government is withdrawing the subvention.  But no student will be paying 25% more than they are currently paying.  The SCMP report does go on to mention what’s really happening:

CEO Belinda Greer explained in a letter to parents that HK$17,300 of the planned increase was due to the loss of the subvention, which started being phased out two years ago and will last for a period of 13 years.

Indeed.  But that HK$17,300 “increase” is something that all parents will have known about when they enrolled their children in an ESF school.  Not a surprise at all. 

The ESF runs 22 international schools for about 17,700 pupils from more than 60 nationalities.

“[The] government subvention will continue for all students in Years Four to 13 in 2018-19,” she said.

“A new fee structure applies to students who joined ESF Year One in August 2016 and August 2017, and to students joining ESF Year One in August 2018.”

For Years One and Two of its primary schools, including the Jockey Club Sarah Roe school, the foundation plans to raise fees from HK$106,500 to HK$111,200. For Years Four to Six, the proposed increase is from HK$89,200 to HK$93,900. For Years Seven to 11 of its secondary schools, including the Jockey Club Sarah Roe school, the foundation plans to raise fees from HK$122,900 to HK$128,400. For Years 12 and 13, the proposed increase is from HK$129,100 to HK$135,000.

Greer told parents: “I want to assure you that our financial planning takes careful account of the need for financial prudence, as well as the impact that any fee increase has on our parents.”

She said the average increase was at the minimum level needed to meet rising costs while maintaining the quality of education.

Oh, and then there are the comments.

SCMP promoting random old news

Outbrain links (on The Guardian, unfortunately) on 10 November


…promoting an Education Post story from seven months earlier:


Outbrain links (again on The Guardian) on 23 November


…promoting an Education Post story from three months earlier:


Even more absurdly, they have in the past promoted an old news story about schools and kindergartens being closed due to a typhoon:


Of course, Outbrain is nonsense, as the New York Times rightly points out:

Publishers Are Rethinking Those ‘Around the Web’ Ads

You see them everywhere, and maybe, sometimes, you click: those rows of links under web articles, often augmented with eye-catching photos and curiosity-stoking headlines about the latest health tips, celebrity news or ways to escape financial stress.

Usually grouped together under a label like “Promoted Stories” or “Around the Web,” these links are often advertisements dressed up to look like stories people might want to read. They have long provided much-needed revenue for publishers and given a wide range of advertisers a relatively affordable way to reach large and often premium audiences.

But now, some publishers are wondering about the effect these so-called content ads may be having on their brands and readers. This month, these ads stopped appearing on Slate. And The New Yorker, which restricted placement of such ads to its humor articles, recently removed them from its website altogether.

Among the reasons: The links can lead to questionable websites, run by unknown entities. Sometimes the information they present is false.

Or not exactly false but very old.  Here’s another take on this:

Have Publishers Lost Their Minds With Outbrain?

Outbrain is just another short-term fix that creates a long-term problem. You don’t have to take my word for it. Take it from one of the biggest-spending clients in the business, who clearly explained why this idea of buying traffic is sending premium publishers in the wrong direction.

Clickbait from

Monday's SCMP clickbait headline:

Chinese airlines are consistently late for this one surprising reason.

- It's not a surprising reason (spoiler alert: it's the military closing the airspace)

Wednesday's rather boring story in the paper, with a clickbait headline online

How developer Rykadan turned a Hong Kong basketball court into tiny flats for big profits.

Except that it wasn't a Basketball court!  From Google Street View, it looks more like a public toilet:

Kwun Chung Street

SCMP–any sub-editors left?

OK, it’s Christmas, but the Sunday Morning Post is supposed to be an English language newspaper.

Debate over MPF protection rages on

Jennifer Ngo | Sunday Morning Post | Sunday, 27 December, 2015

The row over the Mandatory Provident Fund’s offsetting mechanism continues as civil society criticised the government’s lack of commitment in dealing with the problem which had caused a lot of those in the lower-working class to lose their retirement savings.

The offsetting mechanism - where employees’ retirement funds are used to cover their severance or long-service payments by the employers when their job is terminated, or ends - saw 43,500 employees lose a total of HK$3 billion in 2014, according to statistics in the public consultation on retirement protection.

But Wong Shek-hung, advocacy officer at Oxfam Hong Kong, criticised that the government still refuse tto commit to cancelling the mechanism, despite of it being obviously detrimental to helping employees save up for retirement.

“As long as the offsetting mechanism exists, the working class employees will continue to suffer,” said Hung, in a radio show yesterday.

An average of 94 per cent of the employers’ contribution to MPF used up in offsetting, the consultation revealed. And for employees who have a monthly income of HK$7,100 or less - which mean they don’t need to contribute to MPF, only their employers do - this would mean when they leave their job, they leave with no retirement funds saved up at all, because the funds are used to pay off severance or long-service payments.

However, the government stated in the consultation that offsetting is “a complicated matter”, and “cannot be simply retained or done-away with”, and said that the consultation was to “see if employers and employees can come to a compromise and balanced decision”.

Wong said the unjust system had costed the lowest tier of the working class to lose even their meagre retirement savings kept in the MPF system, and said the government should work towards completely abolishing the mechanism.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor denied that the government is shirking away from the offsetting mechanism debate, and that the government “has the determination to deal with the issue”, but that it would take a long-term discussion and examination over whether abolishing it would create big problems for employers.

Might not cause eye strain

Another stoopid letter in the SCMP:

E-readers might result in eye strain

Some correspondents have commented on the benefits of e-reading. I agree with those who argue that it can revive people's interest in literature.

However, I think there are some disadvantages to intensive reading of books and other material on these devices.

You can spend too long reading books on these screens and suffer eye strain.

Also, people on low incomes cannot afford the e-reader, and find it cheaper to purchase a novel.

Andy Lai Chin-pang , Tai Wai

He must surely mean a Kindle  or Nook e-reader, the whole point being that e-ink doesn’t cause eye strain.  Of course, an iPad or Kindle Fire is a different matter.

SCMP is responsible online, but sensationalist in print

The South China Morning Post published this story in Saturday’s paper. 


It includes the following two paragraphs:

Police said it appeared the couple had a good relationship but had been having arguments over a health issue involving the husband.

“He believed he had cancer even though tests showed he did
not," an officer said. “We suspect he might have had some sort of
psychiatric problem”.

You will note that the last sentence is repeated in extra large type, even though it is nothing more than speculation. 

Then read the same story on their website, without the comments from police sources, and without the name of the man: 

A 43-year-old man leapt to his death this morning after stabbing his wife while she was asleep at home in Tseung Kwan O – the second domestic violence case reported within 24 hours.

The woman, 39, was attacked by her husband shortly before 6am inside their 12th-floor apartment at Lohas Park on Wan Po Road.

The woman jumped out of bed and ran out of the apartment, but her husband chased her with a chopper in his hand, according to police.

She ran to the sixth-floor platform above the building’s car park and sought help from another person there, saying “My husband chopped me,” a police officer said. She suffered wounds to her head, face and hands.

The husband, who was following her, then jumped from the platform, the officer said, and was later found lying unconscious six floors down on the ground. The knife was next to him and had snapped in two. He was taken to Tseung Kwan O Hospital, where he was declared dead.

So why can they publish a reasonably responsible story on their website, but it becomes sensationalist nonsense once it gets into the printed newspaper?

Reckless media

Today’s SCMP on how the Hong Kong media reports suicides:

Reckless media reports encourage suicides, say experts at HKU centre

Experts from HKU centre say irresponsible reporting may trigger epidemic of people taking their lives and put pressure on families

Jennifer Ngo | South China Morning Post | Sunday, 08 September, 2013

Irresponsible media reporting of suicides encourages copycats and may even trigger an epidemic, warn experts from the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.  It also caused additional hurt and put pressure on victims' families, a seminar heard yesterday. [..]

The centre yesterday released a guideline for media, developed with the Hong Kong Press Council, on how to report suicide cases ethically and avoid becoming a catalyst for copycat suicides.

Apple Daily is probably the worst offender, but the South China Morning Post (which presumably likes to think of itself as a respectable newspaper) is also guilty of reporting suicides in an irresponsible way, with information that can only have come from the police and speculation about why the individual chose to take their own life.  

Surprisingly, The Standard seems to be more responsible than the SCMP, managing at least to keep its reports more factual. 

I have been told that the reporting of suicides has improved compared to a few years ago, but it still falls a long way short of the guidelines that have been adopted by most British newspapers.  The story does not state whether any newspaper has committed to follow these new guidelines. 

Guidelines for Reporting Suicides

Reporting Approach

1. Editing

  • A suicide incident should not be placed on the front page of a newspaper or a media website unless it is in the public interest or is of grave public concern.
  • Avoid using a large headline when reporting a suicide incident.
  • Media websites should avoid cross-references with other suicide incidents reported on the website. Cross-references should instead be made to websites providing mental health services.
  • Avoid reporting past suicide incidents repeatedly.
  • Extra care should be taken when handling suicide incidents that involve notable persons, as their behavior is likely to be replicated because many view them as heroes or role models.

2. News Content

  • Avoid a detailed description of the suicide method or process.
  • Avoid using an emotional or glorifying tone to describe the suicidal behavior.
  • Avoid describing suicide as a solution.
  • Avoid presuming the reason for the suicidal behavior or simplifying the reason behind the suicide.

3. Use of Photographs

  • Avoid printing sanguinary, violent, revolting and/or pornographic photos.
  • Handle photos of the suicide victim or the suicide scene with care, and pixelate or blur the picture when appropriate.
  • Do not use made-up conversation or plots to describe the suicide process, consequences of or reason for the suicide.
  • Avoid using computer graphics or animation to describe the process, consequences of or reason for the suicide.
  • Avoid enlarging photos of suicides or suicide attempts, such as photos depicting a person jumping off a building.

Appreciation of Privacy

  • Respect the victim’s family privacy to avoid adding to their pain and sorrow.
  • Consideration should be given to the victim’s friends and family. Avoid the over reporting of a suicide incident, as it might affect their emotional recovery.

Education and Prevention

  • Consider including the signs of suicidal behavior in news reports to alertpeople who could offer help to people at risk of suicide.
  • Provide solutions and ways to seek help whenever possible in news reports,such as through comments and opinions from psychologists, social workers and teachers.
  • Provide information on and contact details for mental health and counseling services in news report to assist and support at risk people and their families.

It’s hard to believe that Apple Daily would sign up for this, but surely the South China Morning Post could do so.