For many young people in this digital age, blogging is passé. They neither have the time nor the inclination to plod through long messages.
They want instant, on-the-go and interactive communications. That’s why they prefer to swap news and information on their smartphones using cool platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As far as they’re concerned, blogging is so yesterday.
But for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, blogging is one of the best ways to communicate with Hong Kong people.
He just loves blogging. He is such a prolific blogger that he outperforms many newspaper columnists in output. Since his election victory in 2012, he has churned out 177 articles on his blog, which can be found on the website of the Office of the Chief Executive. He sometimes posts more than a dozen in a month.
What does he write about? Well, practically everything that’s fit to read.
They are mostly off-the-cuff musings about his work and other things, like his weekend visits to various districts, saying thanks to those who greeted him on his birthday (Aug. 12), his father’s profound homesickness (the old Leung is from Shandong province), and how to cook a golden threadfin bream with tomatoes and potatoes.
The Hong Kong leader, of course, is not unique in this respect. Government officials all over the world use blogs and other forms of social network to reach out to their constituents.
Leung’s predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, also had an official Facebook account titled Upper Albert Road, which is of course the address of the Government House in Central.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who also likes to write on his blog, opened his own Facebook account this month and shared pictures as well as accounts of his preparation for this year’s budget.
Yet the problem with many blogs by public officials is that they tend to be staid, preachy and self-conscious. Almost always, they turn into stuffy forums on government policies.
That’s not what blogs are meant to be. They’re supposed to be laid-back, intuitive and candid, allowing the officials to speak directly to the public as well as gauge and respond to public sentiment.
Many officials have taken to blogging. And one can’t help but notice that the less popular an official is, the more inclined they are to keep a blog rather than use Facebook to serve the purpose.
Education Minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim, Home Affairs Minister Tsang Tak-sing, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung have all been long-time bloggers.
And none of them has a Facebook account or has made it public. Also, their blogs are the view-only type. Readers can’t make comments on their blogs or share their posts.
We’re not saying that they don’t want to entertain comments from the public. It’s probably just that they want the communication to go one way — from them to their readers.
No one can blame them, of course. They probably think that they’ve had enough of the embarrassing questions from reporters during press conferences and the daily vitriol from newspaper columnists that they are entitled to some peace and quiet when they speak out their mind in front of the computer screen.
But journalists often complain that they can’t get in touch with these officials when they need their comments on a major policy shift or the latest scandal. Social network should have given these officials the additional venue to respond to urgent issues.
One example is how Leung handled the PR disaster last June involving his daughter Leung Chai-yan. The daughter posted pictures on her Facebook account (yes, unlike her father, she uses Facebook) that appeared to show deep, bloody cuts on the wrist. The posts sparked rumors that she had tried to commit suicide.
Following a “no comment” from his office, Leung soon wrote a post on his blog titled “Attending my daughter’s graduation ceremony in the UK”. The article talked about his swift travel from Hong Kong to London and the need to enlarge Hong Kong airport’s capacity.
It also gave a detailed account of his brief stay in the UK, including a walk in Hyde Park with Chai-yan and his wife. He also posted a happy family picture at the end of the post.
Of course, the Chief Executive is entitled to his privacy, especially when it’s about his personal life. But his roundabout way of dismissing the nasty rumors about his daughter only served to heighten speculation about what happened.
In another post, Leung wrote that he went to Cantopop singer Paula Tsui Siu-fung’s concert. He recalled that he first met Tsui in the 1980s when he was secretary-general of the Basic Law Consultative Committee. Back then, Tsui agreed to do a song promoting the Basic Law for free. He wrote: “Her beautiful voice took me on a trip down memory lane. As we were able to complete the drafting of the Basic Law in the 1980s and return to the Motherland smoothly in 1997, we should certainly be able to implement universal suffrage.”
One has to marvel at Leung’s effort in linking a pop concert to electoral reform and turning the piece into soft propaganda.
Leung’s other articles are just as vapid, full of clichés and pontificating. Here are a few more choice passages from his posts: “Hong Kong youth can achieve greatness through self-improvement and the mainland offers ample opportunities”, “we can continue to work with the whole community in building a caring society so that all of us will love Hong Kong even more”, ”We can contribute to the development of our country while seeking more opportunities for all sectors in Hong Kong”, “Hong Kong people stand to benefit in terms of their own careers from their contributions to the country”, and so forth and so on.
While Leung takes great pleasure in writing his “view-only” blog, his counterparts in Singapore and Taiwan have dedicated teams to manage their official Facebook accounts.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even holds real-time question and answer sessions called “Facebook chats” to interact with youngsters.
He also issues official statements on the platform, including one about his recent surgery after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and another one on his father Lee Kuan Yew’s hospitalization. Those statements help a lot in avoiding or quashing rumors.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou opened his Facebook account in January 2011 which features video clips to explain the rationale behind policies. He also replies to comments in person. Ma’s page now has over 1.6 million likes.
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