Leung Chun-ying yesterday sought to downplay the impact on his governance of the massive protests over television licensing and his administration's resulting plunge in popularity.
The chief executive said licensing was a complex issue that the public would take time to understand.
Leung was speaking a day after the latest University of Hong Kong poll showed public approval of the government plunged to a 20-year low in the first half of this month.
"We should not read too far into the comments made in the lengthy process of television licence vetting," he said. "[Licensing] is a very complex issue that will take citizens time to understand … Because of the Executive Council's [confidentiality] system we cannot talk too much."
Leung was responding to a question at a Newspaper Society lunch about the impact of the issue on his governance amid fresh controversy over accusations by a consultant that the government was misusing her reports to justify denying Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) a free-to-air licence.
Jenny Ng Pui-ying, managing partner of Value Partners Asia, said on Thursday that the government had been quoting her company's reports "out of context".
Ng, whose company wrote four reports on the licensing issue, also said she regretted the decision to issue only two licences instead of three.
Leung did not react directly to the consultant's comments, but said "the government's exact wordings should be quoted".
"I didn't hear [the consultant's] exact wordings," said Leung. "But on this relatively complex issue, any comments made about the government should be based on our original wordings and context, instead of quoting the sayings of legislators who have had meetings with officials."
The chief executive refused to answer further questions on how to make sense of the government's "exact wordings and context".
He also brushed off questions about critical public sentiment, saying: "All indices should be taken as reference."
The poll results showed the public sentiment index towards the government had dropped below 60 - to 58.3 - on a 200-point scale for the first time since the university's Public Opinion Programme began collecting the figures in 1992.
Speaking about government intervention, Leung singled out the free-to-air television industry as a market which required "appropriate intervention".
The controversial decision to award licences to subsidiaries of TVB and iCable has continued to ferment since its announcement on October 15, which led to an estimated 80,000 protesters rallying outside government headquarters .