One day, the son of a tycoon criticised Hong Kong's most prominent political pollster in front of national leaders for conducting "unpatriotic" surveys. The next day, two leading government figures came out and defended the pollster, Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, saying his surveys at the University of Hong Kong were fair and useful. It's not clear why Peter Lee Ka-kit, a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, decided to launch his attack last week during a meeting attended by Zhang Dejiang , one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee and chairman of the National People's Congress.
The vice-chairman of billionaire Lee Shau-kee's property empire Henderson Land Development, the younger Lee said the HKU's public opinion programme - of which Chung was the director - published poll results that were "unpatriotic" and "unfavourable to the central and local governments at critical moments".
It's clear the government never liked Chung's work because it often shows the unpopularity of the chief executive and policy officials. Back in 2000, the then Tung Chee-hwa administration had a political scandal on its hands after revelations that pressure was put on Chung to discontinue his polls. Realising the sensitivity of Lee's attack, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Executive Council member Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun praised Chung's work instead. That was a quick exercise in damage control.
It's true that Chung's polls frequently focus on the chief executive and top ministers. But he also polls and exposes the unpopularity of political parties and lawmakers, including prominent pan-democrats. The problem is that there are so few full-time pollsters in Hong Kong, so the HKU polling centre inevitably gets all the media attention. It's really a question of professional standards rather than bias. What Hong Kong needs is more professional, not "patriotic", pollsters.