Examinations authorities have been accused of self-censorship after a photograph carried in yesterday's Liberal Studies DSE exam was modified so that students could not see a satirical cartoon depicting Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying being tossed into a rubbish bin.
In another photo, some slogans on protest placards were removed, except the words on the biggest banner: "Unite youth power. Support Hong Kong with concerted efforts".
The Examinations and Assessment Authority said both images, taken at the January 1 pro-democracy and pro-government marches last year, had been modified to sharpen the focus of the question in the exam paper.
A rights advocate described the modifications as an example of self-censorship, saying the authority did not want to appear derogatory towards Leung.
"Pupils may be daunted by the removal and dare not write anything bad about Leung," said Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the New Year's Day rally for democracy.
Both pictures appeared in a question that was compulsory for pupils to answer.
The first photo showed protesters holding a banner with words including "Deceptive chief executive - step down" and "Universal suffrage now".
The Leung cartoon was removed along with slogans on smaller banners.
Based on the photos, pupils were asked to identify two difficulties in governing the city and to explain how protests improved the city's quality of life.
A spokeswoman for the authority said the question aimed to test whether pupils understood the demands expressed on the banner but not whether they could interpret the cartoon.
A pupil who took the exam in Tsuen Wan said photos used in the paper should show the whole truth. "If the photos are different, the way we answer the questions will be different," she said.
Cheung Yui-fai, who teaches liberal studies at Po Leung Kuk Lee Shing Pik College, suggested the cartoon was removed to help "avoid pupils being sidetracked", as the photo would have carried too many messages otherwise. "I think the authority did it because it wanted to simplify the question and keep pupils focused within the scope of that question as examination time is limited."
Cheung said he did not believe the authority intended to hide a certain message, as the meaning of the cartoon was reflected by the words, "deceptive chief executive, step down".