Sunday, 12 July 2015

Not Transparent on Advert Spending

How much money did the government spend on this?
The political reform package on how the next chief executive would be chosen in 2017 flopped badly last month, and at the time I wondered how much the government spent on all the TV, radio, print advertising, billboards and even renting open-top double-decker buses to promote the chance for some 5 million Hong Kong residents to vote, though the candidates would be vetted by 1,200 committee members who are pro-Beijing.

And of course the media did ask, and ask... and ask how much taxpayer money was used, but the government has stonewalled.

Carrie Lam in one of many television adverts on the package
Should we be surprised?

Its main reason is that the question will go under a judicial review launched by retired photojournalist Cheung Tak-wing, and so nothing can be revealed at this time.

However, lawmakers on both sides disagree, saying this information is factual, and that it is in the public's interest to know.

Pro-Beijing legislative councillor Paul Tse Wai-chun says, "The centre of discussion in court will be whether the adverts can stand legally, not what the government has done... Facts are facts." He hinted perhaps politics was behind the government not being forthcoming with information.

Cheung's argument is that the adverts are political in nature and not "announcements in the public interest" or APIs. He launched the judicial review back on May 8, hoping to stop the government from further broadcasting the ads, but while the campaign has come and gone, his review will be coming up soon.

Buses were also rented to promote the package around town
When one media outlet asked the government last month how much it had spent on publicity work overall, it declined to comment, "as the court case relating to the API on political reform is still going on".

The government also declined to reveal just part of the expenses, excluding resources spent on API, and did not give an explanation of how such information would affect the court case.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong said the amount spent was factual information and would not affect the court case at all, while Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Journalists Association said the government's attitude showed the need for an information act to ensure the public's right to know.

Last year the government had said it would set aside at least HK$7.3 million to promote public consultation on reform, but lawmakers said it was too much money.

Tsk tsk. The Hong Kong government was desperately hoping no one would ask how much was spent, but we have a right to know. And to stonewall makes the situation even worse.

Is there a seasoned communications expert in the Leung administration? Either the person there doesn't know what he or she is doing, or has lost out in the political fight in the inner sanctum.

Either way the optics are bad.

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