Leung's media man must get to grips with realities of job

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:00am

Andrew Fung Wai-kwong starts a new chapter of his career as Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying's "media man" today. In the coming years, as the Chief Executive Office's information co-ordinator, he will spend hours of "face time" with Leung on the government's media operation.

Fung, a founding member of the Democratic Party and a public relations consultant, must have expected his appointment would prompt doubts and attacks. His former fellow members of the pan-democratic camp see him as a "traitor", while some others question his lack of media experience.

But there may never be a "perfect" candidate for a position like this. Before concluding whether Fung can master the job or not, the major issue is what kind of person the chief executive needs.

The city's first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa used his information co-ordinator more like a government spokesperson, while previous leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's co-ordinator was dubbed a "spin doctor" whose main job was to help build up Tsang's image. Unfortunately, neither met with much success.

According to those familiar with the Chief Executive's Office, it is thought what Leung needs urgently is not a spokesman or a spin doctor, but someone who believes his policies are good and shares his vision to work out a comprehensive publicity or media policy, before, during and after the implementation of major policies.

Leung is still fighting an uphill battle to win more support from both the public and civil servants, and his policies need better explanation. Coping with a critical media is not all the job is about.

Fung earlier said he would "add value" to the government, claiming that he would play a role similar to that of the "White House spokesman". This drew some sarcastic comments, as not only is his boss an eloquent speaker who never shies away from the cameras, but also that Fung might have misinterpreted his duties.

Some then compared his role to that of former British prime minister Tony Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell, once dubbed the "real Deputy Prime Minister". Campbell not only moulded Blair's and the Labour Party's media policy, but influenced some appointments and drafted speeches.

But this comparison does not work in Hong Kong's political reality. Fung is not expected by the public, or his colleagues in Tamar, to "influence" Leung's political appointments, neither is he expected to feed the media with "daily briefings" or to draft speeches, as Leung is known to like to write for himself.

So what will Fung do? It will be a role he must master and make known as soon as possible. He will need to be more than politically fearless if he is to shape the government's media operation. And his first test is coming soon: producing an effective "publicity" strategy for Leung's January Policy Address.