IT is common ground that the old Preliminary Working Committee had a serious public relations problem. So Chinese officials are right to be concerned about how to prevent the Preparatory Committee from suffering the same fate. But to try to achieve this goal by imposing tight restrictions on reporting committee sub-group deliberations is a step in the wrong direction. The solution lies in increasing, rather than restricting, the flow of information to the people of Hong Kong - and of China. Only in that way can the Preparatory Committee avoid the mistakes of its predecessor and fulfil its task, as set by vice-premier Qian Qichen, of consulting widely with the Hong Kong public. In practice, it is proving impossible for the committee to operate in a 'black box'. Those Hong Kong members willing to talk to the press have not been deterred by rules on confidentiality. Yet, even if it proves ineffective, the attempt to restrict news can cause unnecessary harm to the committee's credibility with the local community. It is prudent to keep secret the details of internal discussions. Many bodies, such as the Executive Council, do so - to ensure members can feel free to speak frankly. But it is uncommunicative - and, therefore, unhelpful to the committee and the community - to refuse to reveal little more than the subjects under discussion. Such a restriction is not necessary, even under the Preparatory Committee's own rules. These are couched in general terms and could be interpreted in a more liberal manner, given the will to do so. Such a change would win the support of many Hong Kong committee members. As a first step, Hong Kong reporters should be accredited to cover sub-group meetings before and after they are held. There are precedents for such a change. In 1993, the press at first were banned from the political reform talks in Beijing, until a public outcry persuaded China to change its mind. Yesterday, China softened its stance, releasing some details of the subjects discussed by the committee's chief executive panel and promising to issue press release after decisions are reached. This is helpful - but more transparency would be even more so. The committee's performance will be judged by the Hong Kong public through the eyes of the press. Restricting information to the public is not the best way to set about winning hearts and minds.