By Nury Vittachi
Not fair! How are humorists supposed to compete when government officials steal our shtick?
The funniest thing I've heard for ages came from China's ambassador to the United Nations, Li Baodong, who spoke at the UN headquarters in New York recently.
"China has never restricted freedom of speech," he said. "There is no media censorship. We guarantee full religious freedom, and journalists, lawyers, human rights advocates, have full freedoms. The public can express their opinions freely, and nobody will be punished or investigated for making opinions."
Most impressive was the fact that he said all that with a completely straight face, as if there was anything remotely believable in it. Mr Li, I take off my hat to you. You are the new King of Comedy.
On a related note, consider the recent antics of CCTV, the China state television broadcaster. The massive fire at the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing was featured on all major news media outlets around the world. But mysteriously, the news crew at CCTV itself completely missed it. This is despite the fact that they had four camera teams with high definition cameras at the scene. They clearly forgot Mr Li's "full freedoms". The picture at the top of this column appears to show the Chinese media’s notion of free speech.
His words reminded me of an interview I once read in Thailand. A government minister said the people of Thailand were "very modest" and "extremely conservative" by nature. I think I would have believed him more had I not read his statement while sitting in an outdoor café in Patpong, a part of Bangkok dedicated largely to clubs in which women perform "dances" involving ping-pong balls that few people would characterize as "very modest".
But the most shocking statements are on the business pages. When I was a business reporter, a tycoon released a statement saying that rumours that his company was negotiating to buy another company were entirely false and no such talks had taken place. THE SAME DAY, his company announced that it had bought the other company. Both statements could only have been true if the tycoon had, on a whim, decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a company in which he had had no interest whatsoever seconds earlier.
News reports say that everything is falling, but the "lesser spotted lie" is definitely on the increase. You can see them all over the place. I reckon the most likely locations to find them include:
Any statement released by listed corporations;
Any statement by a government suggesting that it wants to move towards greater accountability or democracy
Any statement by Microsoft Corporation, and
Any statement on Fox News.
And what are the world's most common actual untruths? I would suggest the following:
1) I'm not here to sack people.
2) I love you too, darling.
3) Fun for all the family!
4) I'll call you.
5) He's in a meeting.
6) Can't talk right now, I'm on my way out the door.
7) Don't worry, I'll be good.
8) No, of course you don't look fat in that.
9) The cheque's in the mail.
10) I didn't get your email.
11) The dog ate my homework.
12) This won't hurt a bit.
13) I only had one beer.
14) Mm, this home-made pie tastes great.
15) No, really, it's fine, I prefer it cold.
16) Actually, we're just good friends.