The 19th Consumer Rights Reporting Awards: Assembling Media Power in Defence of Consumer Rights

1 August 2019
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 The 19th Consumer Rights Reporting Awards: Assembling Media Power in Defence of Consumer RightsThe Consumer Rights Reporting Awards (CRRA), now in its 19th year, was first launched in 2001 by the Consumer Council in conjunction with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA). This year, the CRRA received the highest number of entries in the past 10 years, a total of 274 entries in the different categories – 125 Print, 8 Audio, 67 Video, 43 Press Photo, and 31 Campus.  

At the CRRA Presentation Ceremony today, a total of 28 awards in 7 categories, including 4 Sustainable Consumption Awards, were presented by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr. Edward Yau Tang Wah, GBS, JP, and the Council Chairman, Mr. Paul Lam Ting Kok, SC.

The entries this year were rich in content and diversity – ranging from legal loopholes and shortcomings in consumer rights in the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and the Competition Ordinance, to issues of livelihood, as in the heartrending tale of subdivided flat tenants waiting at self-service laundromats for their laundry to dry in the early hours of the morning. Other issues affecting people’s everyday lives included those feeling anxiety about the shortage of columbarium spaces for their loved ones, the scalping problem, and high costs on targeted therapy drugs driving patients to buy generic drugs at great risk to their life and legal infringement.

In 2016, the Council introduced a new CRRA award category called the “Sustainable Consumption Awards”, which aim to encourage the news media to assume the role of public educator to germ and burgeoning growth of sustainable consumption awareness among consumers. Indeed, in recent years, there has been heightened media interest in the sustainable consumption theme, with 28 entries related to sustainable consumption this year, a threefold increase over the previous year. These entries exposed, amongst others, the serious problem of disposable waste in the airline industry, the plastic waste disaster in the oceans, and the effect of the “Producer Responsibility Scheme on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment” (PRS on WEEE) on the community from different angles.

In his welcome speech, Council Chairman Mr Paul Lam Ting-kwok, SC said, “With the rapid changes in society, the Council has kept pace with the times by actively responding to the challenges brought by the economy, society and technology. We hope the media will continue to support our work and to represent the voices of consumers by advocating for their interests. In fact, the media is a close ally of the Council. Through their unrelenting investigations to expose issues and incidents injurious to consumer safeguards, they have exercised their media power to staunchly defend consumer rights and interests.”

Text Category

The text category, comprising 2 main streams – “News/Feature/Commentary” and “Investigative Reporting” – had 79 and 46 entries, respectively.

The Gold Award in “News/Feature/Commentary” entry was critical of the Competition Ordinance, which despite 3 years of enforcement, has done little to curb the many anti-competition practices in the market. The reporter probed deeply from the perspective of small retailers in neighbourhood shops and revealed that the Competition Ordinance did not have any deterrent effect on the market, as merchandise prices were still determined by the agents and major supermarket chains. The reporter also delved deeply into the ineffectiveness of the Ordinance, citing reasons that included legal loopholes, the lack of resources, and the lack of active government support for the Competition Commission. The analysis and narrative in the entry provides a good reference for consumers on the issue, encouraging social reflection and effectively exercising the media monitoring role of the Government, business and the public.

The past year has seen a number of incidents involving leaks in the security of corporate systems, which shocked the city. The Gold Award in “Investigative Reporting” went to an entry that unveiled serious loopholes in the data security of the credit reference agency TransUnion. Using the personal data of other people, the reporter was able to gain access and easily obtain their credit reports, exposing the security loopholes of TransUnion. The authorities were urged to crack down on this blatant corporate breach of security. 

Audio and Audio-visual Category

Besides system security involving privacy issues, the Audio Gold Award entry this year took to task the membership reward schemes of a number of companies, revealing that their preferential terms and conditions contain clauses that may allow “third parties” to access their customers’ personal data and information, causing a privacy leakage problem. The attention of the public was drawn to these privacy issues.

In the audio-visual entries, the Gold Award for short clips was awarded to a hard-hitting expose of the wicked tactics of ticket scalpers in depriving consumers of a fair chance to purchase tickets. The Government was called on to take immediate action to plug the policy loophole. The Gold Award for long clips focused on drug companies transferring their marketing costs to consumers and jacking up prices of targeted therapy drugs. Unable to bear the costs, patients with rare diseases or cancer are driven to run the risk of breaking the law by buying generic drugs from abroad. 

Press Photo Category

The Press Photo Gold Award entry, under the caption “Petition against Shark’s Fins”, vividly depicts the continual indiscriminate slaughter of sharks, in an appeal to stop the illegal trade in products of endangered animals, as well as land reclamation to alleviate the impact of climate change. The entry also won a Sustainable Consumption award. 

Campus Category

This year’s entries in the campus category were particularly strong, totalling 31 entries, double the number of last year. The high standard of the entries, with many achieving very close adjudication results, led to intense competition. 2 entries in particular, which shared the Gold award, both excelled in the choice of subject expression technics and the depth of reporting skills. 1 of the winning entries was based on interviews, from the opposite standpoints of proponents and opponents, debating the pros and cons of telephone marketing, and reflecting objectively the different views of the public and business on the issue.

In the other winning entry, a reporter brought his own lunchbox to purchase food at 7 major fast food chains and found that nearly half of the eateries did not respond positively to his request for an environmental friendly practice. Some even packed the food in the usual container before transferring the food to the customer’s own container.  The entry also won a Sustainable Consumption award.

Sustainable Consumption Awards

The winning entry for the Sustainable Consumption Award in the text category was a series of reports focusing on the massive use of disposable products by the airline industry, ranging from plastic cups and utensils, to eyeshades and mini gift packs, as well as the ubiquitous plastic bags. The airline industry must collaborate to reduce waste at the source.

For the Sustainable Consumption Reporting Award in the video category, the top award was for a series titled “Eating Your Own Plastics”, as it traced the contamination of plastic waste in the human food chain, endangering the oceans and seafood, and ultimately people, who are victims of their own making. The series powerfully illustrates the pressing need to reduce environmental pollution.

The aim of the Consumer Rights Reporting Awards is to recognise excellence in reporting of consumer rights and interests. Over the years, the Awards have become authoritative and coveted annual professional recognition. The CRRA is jointly organized by the Consumer Council, the HKJA and the HKPPA. The adjudication panel comprises 15 representatives from professional organisations and university journalism faculty, including the Council Chairman and Vice-Chairman. This year’s CRRA coincides with the Council’s 45th Anniversary. The Council is firmly committed to working closely with the media in a concerted effort to safeguard the rights and interests of consumers.