Poll row academic denies political aim

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


A top academic at the centre of a row over a poll on the popularity of the men vying to become the next chief executive said his decision to release early results had not been politically motivated.

Professor Zhao Xinshu has apologised for the negative impact the incident has had on the image of the university at which he works.

But staff, students and alumni of Baptist University's School of Communication who attended a forum to discuss the incident yesterday expressed dissatisfaction with what they described as an 'insincere apology' from Zhao.

Zhao, who heads the school and the survey, failed to show up to give an account of his actions.

The university has been urged to carry out an independent inquiry into the incident and to suspend Zhao for the duration of the investigation.

The university's vice-president, Professor Rick Wong Wai-kwok - who had been appointed to head a panel to conduct a probe - said he has no power to suspend Zhao. He also failed to promise an independent investigation.

Former People's Daily journalist Zhao, now head of the university's HongCOMM survey lab, has come under fire for publishing the popularity poll result before it was officially completed.

The initial data had exaggerated the margin by which support for frontrunners Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying had narrowed. It was claimed the move misled the public and it aroused suspicion it was politically motivated.

In a statement released in the midst of the forum, Zhao reiterated he had not received any political pressure from anyone. But he admitted he had 'seriously underestimated the sensitivity and the potential impact' of the polls he conducted.

'I apologise for the negative images that my actions have caused for the school and for the university,' he said.

'I am also deeply sorry for the further mistrust this controversy has caused towards the academic freedom and credibility of public opinion polls in Hong Kong.'

But he declined to attend the forum, saying his presence could interfere with the university probe.

Professor To Yiu-ming, spokesman for the university's faculty and staff union, said the apology was insincere because Zhao did not apologise for his errors and did not face scrutiny at the forum.

Wong said he would lead a four-member panel made up of respected academics from the university to investigate the incident. It would aim to finish the report by the end of next month.

'The panel will look into the operation of the survey lab, the methodology of conducting the popularity poll, the timing and decision of releasing data, and investigate whether the decision had faced external interference,' Wong said.

But he said the inquiry would not be open to the public and he would not guarantee the final report would be made public.

Students and alumni called for an open and independent investigation and for Zhao to be suspended from duty in the meantime.

'It's not up to me,' Wong said, adding that he would reflect the opinions to the university management but the final decision was subject to the university's president, Professor Albert Chan Sun-chi, and council.