On Oct. 16, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor delivered her annual policy address by video – the first time this was ever done in the city’s history – after fierce protests mounted by pan-democratic lawmakers forced her to cancel her speech at the Legislative Council.
Before that, the government had announced that there would be no televised forum and radio forum relating to the policy address the next morning after the speech was delivered.
Seeking another channel to communicate with the members of the public, the chief executive then held a Facebook Live event to speak with netizens over her policy address on the evening of Oct. 17.
Although the chief executive’s live session was met with mixed reactions from local netizens, the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office (PICO), which was mainly responsible for the chief executive’s webcast, has proposed during a recent closed-door meeting that the administration should arrange for another live session, according to a government source.
The only difference is that whereas Lam herself appeared in the last Facebook live event, this time the suggestion is that various bureau chiefs should take turns appearing in the live sessions to explain their policy agendas to netizens.
However, it appears that PICO’s idea doesn’t sit well with some policy bureaus, and hence the fate of the proposed “webcast 2.0” is still hanging in the air at this point.
A person who is familiar with the matter has pointed out that the PICO believed the chief executive’s live session on Oct. 17 was only able to deliver mediocre results because the topics for discussion were too broad and wide-ranging, thereby rendering it very difficult for her to stay focused on a single issue.
Having learned that lesson, the PICO therefore proposed that her principal officials should take turns appearing in the next round of webcast sessions, during which they should focus on their own specific policy fields.
For example, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan can talk about housing with netizens, while Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah can discuss the economy.
Nevertheless, quite a number of government departments appeared to have reservations about the PICO’s idea, which has provoked heated debate within the administration.
Those who are in favor of the PICO’s idea agree that since stopping the violence and chaos is now the overriding priority of the government, principal officials must send a strong message to society that they are on the same page.
As such, by arranging for different bureau chiefs to appear on live webcast and interact with netizens, it can at least demonstrate solidarity among the governing team.
Yet those who are against the idea argue that such cosmetic online dialogue can hardly get to the root of the problem, let alone alleviate the acute social conflicts now gripping the city.
Some officials were even brutally honest about the fact that the demands put forward by netizens and protesters over the past few months just couldn’t have been clearer.
So unless the administration is able to come up with some drastically new proposals to address public grievances, the officials said, it would be very difficult for the government to turn the tide of public opinion in its favor no matter how many webcast sessions or community dialogue sessions are held.
It is understood that according to the initial plan, preparations for the “webcast 2.0” are scheduled to begin this week, only to be postponed temporarily due to conflicting opinions about the initiative within the government.
And it remains to be seen whether the PICO’s idea will finally get the green light.
Another government figure said the PICO’s plan is redundant because principal officials have already been engaging young people in “in-depth” dialogue over the past one month or so.
Besides, meeting young people face-to-face is certainly a lot better than holding live sessions on Facebook, which might create an impression among the public that all the government wants to do is to pull a publicity stunt, the source added.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 15
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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