Date
21 October 2019
Carrie Lam has insisted in no uncertain terms that her administration wasn't behind the leak of an audio recording wherein she could be heard saying that she would quit if she had a choice. Photo: Bloomberg
Carrie Lam has insisted in no uncertain terms that her administration wasn't behind the leak of an audio recording wherein she could be heard saying that she would quit if she had a choice. Photo: Bloomberg

Lam’s public messaging: Facts and fiction

Following the release of a leaked audio clip featuring Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier this month, in which she could be heard saying that she would quit if she had a choice, Reuters published the transcript in full last Thursday.

As per the full transcript, Lam told a group of business people at a luncheon that propaganda initiatives are “the government’s weakest links”, and that “at least in terms of dissemination of factual information we are very, very weak.”

The chief executive then went on to tell her guests during a Q&A session that “if we survive this crisis, well there will be a large bit of revamping that I need to do in order to leave behind a better situation for my successor because there are so many weak parts in the government.”

She also revealed during the conversation that “we could start to think about relaunching Hong Kong. Eight global PR companies were said to have been invited by the government to learn if they would be interested in the project, only to be met with outright refusal by four, while another two firms later “turned away request for meetings”, the transcript showed.

As far as the remaining two are concerned, Lam said “their advice will only be more relevant after we (i.e. the government) have gone through this period.”

It is understood that quite a lot of government officials responsible for dealing with the media and external affairs are now monitoring the online LIHKG forum on a daily basis in order to try to gauge public opinion and defuse any potential PR crisis.

While the bid to monitor online discussion platforms might raise some questions, a government source notes that the administration is just trying to get a better grasp of the thoughts and feelings of the young people.

The problem is, the government figure conceded, it is one thing for the authorities and the chief executive to listen to public voices, but it’s another matter altogether whether they would take the people’s voices seriously and respond to them.

Meanwhile, some figures from the previous administration have pointed out that the key to winning the public opinion war isn’t for the chief executive to hire some world-class PR firms to mount publicity stunts.

Instead, they said, Lam should have drawn insights from a predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, as to how to do it. When Tsang was in office, he established his own “PR war room” and recruited a team of members from different backgrounds, including young people and individuals who didn’t come from the civil service, the former officials noted.

Such “PR war room” proved more efficient when it comes to gauging the social pulse.

Unfortunately, it is said that after Lam took office as chief executive, she rejected outright the ideas of establishing a “PR war room” and appointing an Information Coordinator, unlike her immediate predecessor Leung Chun-ying.

As to the leaked audio recording, although Lam has insisted in no uncertain terms that the leaked message wasn’t orchestrated, nor was the audio clip deliberately leaked to Reuters. But the denials haven’t managed to quell the rumors and conspiracy theories that are flying around.

Some of the conspiracy theories suggested that Lam could have intentionally leaked the conversation to the media in order to show that she isn’t keen on hanging on to power.

However, according to the analysis of a person who was present at an Exco meeting, it is unlikely that the chief executive herself was behind the leak.

If things were really unfolding as per a “screenplay”, Lam would have looked cheerful the day after Reuters broke the story of the chief executive’s comments behind closed doors.

But what we saw was that Lam bore a grave and troubled look on her face, indicating that she was caught completely off guard by the leak, the person noted, endorsing the view that the chief executive didn’t orchestrate the leak of the audio recording.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/RC

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.