Central Policy Unit chief defends government ads to push proposals

Government's spending on ads to promote policies it wants Legco to pass draws fire; advisers to monitor public mood on social networks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 5:18am

The government must engage in a public relations battle to drum up support for its policies, and pay more attention to views expressed online about its policies, the head of the Central Policy Unit think tanks says.

Shiu Sin-por defended the government's recent public announcements and said critics of its PR tactics were "ludicrous".

He said the administration was responsible for selling its policies and telling the public how they could benefit from them.

Printed advertisements and television announcements in the public interest (APIs) - funded by taxpayers' money - have been used recently to promote plans for an old-age living allowance and three new towns in the northeast New Territories.

The ads caused controversy, as neither proposal has yet been endorsed by the Legislative Council.

The Development Bureau and the Labour and Welfare Bureau refused to disclose how much the advertisements cost.

"We are in the society of electoral politics," Shiu told TVB's On the Record programme yesterday. "Every day politicians and interest groups try to promote their stances to the public.

"If the government were to maintain neutrality and do nothing, it would be no different to sitting still and getting hit. It is absolutely reasonable and necessary for the government to drum up public support."

Shiu, a close ally of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, denied the unit had misjudged public opinion about government plans for national education in schools. But he said it would start monitoring and analysing online public opinion - in blogs, Facebook and discussion forums.

Asked whether the unit had become "a political tool", Shiu said: "We must be a tool to serve the government. We are not a chit-chat unit or a playgroup."

Dr Elizabeth Quat, vice chairman of the Legco's information technology and broadcasting panel, said: "It is indisputable that the government should use public resources to promote its policy initiatives and ideas, but its message must be clear.

"The advertisements on the old age living allowance conveyed a confusing message to elderly citizens who may think they have been granted a HK$2,200 monthly allowance despite the proposal not yet being passed by Legco."

Acting Democratic Party chairman Emily Lau Wai-hing agreed the government should explain its policies in areas of public interest, but said recently APIs had been used as a "political tool" to pressure legislators.

The Information Services Department said the Development Bureau had used announcements on the new town development plan to emphasise the need for building public flats.

The Office of the Communications Authority had received 31 complaints about the two ad campaigns up to November 12.