Hong Kong handover: Media faces stupefying choice at biggest ever gathering

As Hong Kong's D-Day approaches, the authorities have unveiled a 9,000 square metre media centre, erected to house the biggest ever gathering of journalists for a single political event. More than 8,000 journalists are expected in the colony for the handover to Chinese rule on 30 June.

How this invasion of mild-mannered and patient people will be handled when push comes to much shoving, remains to be seen.

If the authorities have it their way, the reporters will spend most of their time attending more than 70 events organised for their benefit.

The world press is being invited to visit various factories, hear briefings on the financial system, the transport system, local government, trade and the "wetland habitat" of Mai Po, and join a tour of historic monuments. Only one of the briefings, in fact, is related to the handover of sovereignty.

The media representatives will be able to raise themselves from the stupor induced by these events by rummaging through the smart shoulder bags which have been given to all accredited reporters, and which contain everything from free camera film to T-shirts, baseball caps and coupons for free courier delivery.

The total cost of this largesse, which also extends to the provision of Internet services, computers, photocopiers and archive footage for television stations, is pounds 700,000.

As is usual in Hong Kong, this sum was raised through commercial sponsorship.

Japan tops the list of countries sending the highest number of journalists, with applications from 1,300 people.

The United States is second with 1,000 and Britain, the outgoing colonial power, is third with 700. The BBC alone will be sending almost 200 journalists. Hong Kong's lively media will be represented by 2,800 journalists. Stephen Lam, the civil servant responsible for co-ordinating the handover ceremony, seems to have a policy of not answering controversial questions directly. So far, he has had a fairly easy ride. But the media torrent has not yet begun.