FRED Ting Fook-cheung, a Chinese literature graduate, used language to the full when he took the stage at the Legislative Council on Thursday. Likening the formulation of an umbrella broadcasting bill to baking a six-layer chestnut cake, Mr Ting, the acting secretary for recreation and culture, said the cake was now half-baked because the gas supply was cut off after it was put inside the cooker. But forget about the cake, he told the legislators, because they will be serving 'shark's fin'. Not surprisingly, some legislators had no idea what he was talking about. Puzzlement gave way to anger. Had the bill been aborted? Yes or no, please. Mr Ting hadn't finished with his imagery: 'I have not said the bill is dead. It might come back to life. Not only Jesus can come back to life, so does the hope of human beings.' Still perplexed over the status of the bill, legislators were at last given a clear message: the bill had been virtually buried for fear of irritating China. 'Time is running short before 1997,' Mr Ting said. 'If we introduce a bill without serious thought, someone will become suspicious of what the Government wants to do. This is the inescapable reality.' Shocked by those remarks, the Government's public relations squad moved swiftly to control damage. Acting Chief Secretary Michael Leung Man-kin held an impromptu press briefing on Friday to 'set the record straight' by reaffirming that the bill was still on the drawing board. Whether it is inside a drawer or in the rubbish bin is anybody's guess. The sharp differences at the core of the administration have created confusion and suspicion over the proposed legislation that seeks to provide a 'technology-neutral' legal framework for the rapidly growing broadcasting industry. Mr Leung's statement that the bill would be tabled to Legco 'as soon as practicable' does not mean it is safe. Even the acting chief secretary could not commit himself to a timetable. It might remain a top priority in the agenda of Governor Chris Patten, but not necessarily with the policy branch. To bureaucrats such as Mr Ting, it is surely not practicable to venture into new legislation that might irritate Beijing. Chinese officials and Preliminary Working Committee members have oftem warned against any hasty or unilateral moves to rewrite the statute book before 1997. There is also the possibility that some contents of the bill relating to media ownership might be politically sensitive, so Mr Ting's obsession that Beijing might think otherwise could well be true. Learning from the bitter lessons of 'consultation' with China, his was a realistic assessment that the bill could probably drag on for a year or two after Beijing was asked to give its views. The purpose of introducing a new legislative framework to cope with changes in the industry will simply be defeated. The mistake he made, perhaps, was to put it so blatantly to the media and legislators. The drama surrounding the broadcasting bill has revealed the dilemma facing the policy branch heads: any major policy changes can easily be politicised and get bogged down at the negotiating table. Unlike senior bureaucrats who stick to the official line when propagating policies, 48-year-old Mr Ting has been too frank in voicing his fears. But there will be others in the administration who share them.