And news just in from Hong Kong ...

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Every time you switched on your radio or TV, it was there. Morning, noon and night. The latest state of play. The latest state of rain. The experts pulled in to forecast the next round. The commentators gathered round to give their verdict. The ex-champions consulted for their view of today's tactics.

No, not Wimbledon.

It's Hong Kong I'm talking about.

Every time I switched on my radio on the long drive north to Welshpool the other day, all I got was the droning of people who had been flown out to Hong Kong to tell us that in a few hours it would be handed over to the Chinese and that a few hours after that they would all be flying back again.

I think we all knew that.

You would have had to be blind, deaf, dumb or sitting in the New Mexico desert celebrating the non-existence of UFOs not to be aware of the fact that we were giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese, and even then you would have had fairly good prior warning of the fact.

We have in fact known for more than 100 years that Hong Kong was going to be given back to the Chinese in the middle of 1997. This was the best signposted, most heralded event of the 20th century, the one containing the least surprise value and the least news value.

And yet every time you switched on your radio and TV, as I seem to have said before, there it was. The grand closing-down, the great handover, the British bands and the Chinese fireworks. The last bit of the British Empire (apart from Bermuda, Anguilla, Gibraltar and all the other bits we still have) to be given back to the rightful owners. A moment to make you stop and think: "I wonder what's on the other side?"

So why had all the journalists flocked out to Hong Kong to tell us what we knew already?

Why did Fergal Keane wander down to the Hong Kong graveyard where so many British soldiers were buried and go into Fergal-Keane-elegiac mode?

Why did John Simpson put on his lightweight tropical gear and fly out to go into his well-what-happens-next? mode?

Why were we given endless speculation on whether Geoffrey Howe would or would not attend the Chinese knees-up? Why was there endless coverage of Ted Heath getting off the plane in Hong Kong, when we all know that any event to which Ted Heath turns up is likely to turn out to be a non- event?

Was it because nothing else was happening in the world?

Was it in order to give a lot of journalists a jolly nice free trip to one of the best shopping areas in the world, not to mention John Birt, who also turned up for the freebie?

A reader writes: Come off it, Mr Kington, you're just jealous that you weren't invited! You're green with envy at the sight of all these reporters getting wined and dined and being given a last opportunity to buy cheap shirts and cameras! So now you're turning nasty and pretending it's all a lot of hokum!

Mr Kington writes: No, sir - you're wrong. All in all, I'd rather be back in Britain, and I am not sorry to be up here in Welshpool, which in its own way is a bit like Hong Kong, being on the borders of two great nations, Wales and England, and which has one great advantage over Hong Kong, being completely free of the international press circus. I suppose I could have been out and about early today asking the inhabitants of Welshpool if they wanted to be given back to the Welsh, or indeed to the English, but exposure to the Hong Kong circus has cured me of that sort of journalism. By "that sort", I mean the kind of journalism today that is more inclined to speculation than to reporting. Speculation is easy, reporting is hard. It is far easier to say what may happen after China takes over Hong Kong than to find out what is actually happening. The Tory party leadership struggle got more coverage before it happened than after, as do almost all events, from a British Lions match ("We go over now to the British Lions camp to find out how morale is before the big match") to the Northern Ireland peace process, which indeed is unique in being all speculation and no actuality. Or was the real reason that the Hong Kong handover was reported so widely simply that the media were handed all the pictures on a plate, and had only to fill in a few footnotes?

Meanwhile, here in Welshpool there is a big story which has gone unreported, and that is that one of the largest stores in town is called Major's, and that the week after the election it put up a notice saying "Closing Down Sale". I would have recommended putting a reporter on to it, except that they're all in Hong Kong.

Miles Kington, Welshpool, News at Ten.

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