Time for government to enhance its publicity efforts

March 12, 2020 17:14
Public attention has often focused on the blunders that the government has made while a lot of its commendable and successful efforts have gone unnoticed, according to the author. Photo: HKEJ

Our government has been getting a lot of bad press, from the claim that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor doesn’t know how to use the Octopus card to her government's inability to secure enough supply of face masks in the global market to the HK$10,000 cash handouts being "too little too late".

It appears a lot of policy initiatives devised by the government out of good intent have ended up being a bad thing in the public eye.

The government itself is partly to blame for its currently difficult and embarrassing position; many of our principal officials have simply lost their common touch in the course of making their decisions and carrying out policy measures.

For example, Lam and her cabinet recently came under heavy criticism from the public for being sluggish and reactive when it comes to fighting the Covid-19 outbreak.

Many have accused the administration of completely losing touch with reality amid the raging epidemic, which, to some extent, is a fair statement.

In the age of internet and free media, people have easy access to all sorts of information and news, and this allows them to compare and contrast the ways that different governments have been handling the health crisis.

This, of course, often leads to criticism.

For many in Hong Kong, Macau Chief Executive Ho lat-seng has outperformed Lam in leading and coordinating the disease prevention campaign, hence their anger and frustration with our chief executive.

To be fair, I believe the Hong Kong SAR administration isn’t really that bad in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak when compared with the governments of South Korea and Japan.

Our government has put a lot of effort into fighting the epidemic, only that most of these initiatives have gone under the public radar, not least because there are fundamental shortcomings in the administration’s publicity work.

As a result, public attention has often focused on the blunders that the government has made while a lot of its commendable and successful efforts have gone unnoticed.

Among these are the frequent community visits made by the chief executive and her officials, the handing out of face masks to the elderly, the evacuation of Hong Kong passengers on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama and those stranded in Wuhan, as well as the well-built quarantine facilities across the city.

Some people might say these are things that any decent government is supposed to do for its citizens, and hence there is no need for praise or applause.

But perhaps we should also admit that lashing out at the government is very easy, but reflecting on ourselves is very difficult.

In a democratic society that is constantly facing the challenges posed by the new economy, new media, new technology, new norms, and the new generation, the SAR government officials must change their traditional mindset in order to win social approval.

As such, there is a need for our government to put together a publicity team that is more professional, more capable of thinking outside the box, and most importantly, more willing to get off its high horse in order to break the impasse of governance and rejuvenate the image of the administration.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 29

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Chen Xiaofeng, Doctor of Juridical Science