Shortly after the government unveiled the 2017 electoral reform package, virtually all of Hong Kong media, including HKEJ, rushed to join the “pocket it first” chorus.
I have never seen such a scene before in which different newspapers were speaking along the same line. If the media can be taken as a truthful reflection of the public view, then the mission handed down by Beijing to garner support from the majority of the people has already been accomplished.
The next thing is to rope in key figures in vital elite circles, including business “tai-pan”, social group leaders and other celebrities, to ensure that the package will gain endorsement from “broadly representative” members of the society.
To wage such a mass campaign to shape public views, a well-trodden process is to dispatch reporters from “trusted” media outlets to interview key public figures and pose questions in an interrogative manner.
The big shots will surely take side with Beijing or at least stay politically correct in their remarks as they know that such a strategy will be critical to safeguard their core personal interests.
Efforts targeting these elites would also be aligned by campaigns among the middle class and grassroots, like an extensive web of street booths to reach out to all residents. Then there must be free banquets, galas and community activities – sponsored by public and private funds – to create a favorable atmosphere in all districts.
The farce last Thursday in Mei Foo — which saw Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam attend a pro-government rally and exhort the crowd to support the package, using mainland-style revolutionary songs and performances — in fact marked the first such campaign in a largely middle class residential neighborhood.
With all these, public figures can then take stage to show their patriotism. This is how the Basic Law’s requirement of “broadly representativeness” in the chief executive election is realized. And, the government has many tailor-made opinion poll results as proof of the public’s acceptance of the proposal, though it is another matter that none of the polls are reliable.
The government has virtually unlimited manpower and financial recourses at its disposal for the contest to mobilize the entire society while the pan-democratic camp simply cannot stand a chance for comparison in this regard. Also, some key opposition members are still being held back by fabricated political-donation lawsuits.
The scale of the territory-wide campaign being launched is reminiscent of the grand events celebrating the 1997 handover. But the difference is that back then the majority of the society genuinely enjoyed the events as they, including most of the democrats, supported the reunification.
Now, it is another situation and things are not the same.
The media’s uniform stance and local elites’ words of allegiance are more of a reflection of authorities’ ability to tame influential voices, rather than mirroring the popular mood.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 27.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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