Camera lights flashed. Tape recorders rolled. 'Ms Chan! Ms Chan!' they shouted, straining to be heard above their own voices. The press officer pointed to the woman wedged between two cameras in the front. The chorus of voices subsided. Winner of the first round - the ATV television reporter. With every word eating up precious time, the reporter spoke quickly. Anson Chan Fang On-sang, with her usual pronounced eloquence, responded in Cantonese. The reporters scribbled furiously. 'Ms Chan! Ms Chan!' They called out again. And so the scrum continued. It was February 20. Elsie Leung Oi-see was being announced as the post-handover secretary of justice and Lily Yam Kwan Pui-ying as the new ICAC commissioner. As the reporters cut in again in the foyer of the Central Government Office, a middle-aged expatriate spoke quietly to the press officer, who in turn tapped Ms Chan's shoulder and whispered into her ear. She turned her head to the left. 'Yes Jonathan?' she said, referring to Jonathan Mirsky, East Asia editor of The Times in London. 'Yes, Anson,' he paused. Was it for effect? 'I'd like to know . . .' he continued. When she finished responding, they piped up again. 'Ms Chan! Ms Chan!' Afterwards, the editor walked away, smug and self-assured. When Ms Chan, Ms Leung and Ms Yam had taken their turns feeding the media frenzy, the reporters retrieved their tape recorders, packed up and dispersed. One expatriate reporter however, threw his bulky frame in the way of the press officer and ranted in his thick Irish accent: 'You allowed 40 questions in Chinese, we only got two,' he complained. 'We've got deadlines too. How are we supposed to file our copy?' Ah, the media. As if their constant questioning was not enough. Ever so patient, the press officer sighed. He had done his best handling the raucous crowd of reporters. He walked away. The scene at the press briefing, with about 50 reporters, photographers and cameramen straining the red cordon, is one that plays itself out day after day. Dealing with the media is no easy task. And with the handover - the territory's largest gathering of foreign journalists - it could get worse. About 4,000 accredited foreign news hounds from more than 10 countries - in addition to the more than 2,000 locally accredited individuals - will touch down in the territory and begin hunting for political drama in the build-up to the change of sovereignty. There will be the economic success story, the civil liberties story, and of course, the story of the 'solemn and dignified handover ceremony' as it is referred to in many a government document. 'It's going to be a very sensitive period, simply because of the sheer number of media,' warns Donna Liu, a senior producer with the two-year-old CNN International bureau. 'I'm sure [the foreign press] will have done their homework but it will be easy for remarks to be taken out of context. I don't know how it's going to play out.' As a producer of three news shows covering the Asian region, she expresses no particular commitment to the Hong Kong story, simply because it has been running for months and a number of regional situations could steal the territory's limelight in the run-up to the much ballyhooed moment. That is not to say, however, that it is not a big story. The territory will be getting full treatment from CNN International, as the bureau brings in their 'SWAT team' of thirty-plus people, including local hired help. Correspondents from their six other Asian bureaus will also be flown in to begin a heavy blitz one week before the change of sovereignty. 'A lot of expectation has been built up because it is a historic moment, no matter what happens on the ground,' says Liu. 'It's the history, the symbolism, which is what we're here to document. Hong Kong has great news value because so many people relate to it as a cosmopolitan city.' But she adds: 'This is not going to be a free PR job for Hong Kong, just as it wasn't for Atlanta.' The Olympics proved to be a tough lesson for the city which had much grander results in mind. Instead of the warm praise organisers expected to be showered with, Atlanta was rounded on for its constant string of disasters - from an ineffective transport system to its tardiness in completing housing complexes. Topping the list was the malfunctioning of new IBM equipment, which threw the entire media centre into disarray and left thousands of journalists disgruntled. So much for good publicity. Hong Kong's ego has already been slightly bruised by negative preconceptions and reports, which is why people like public relations consultant, Ted Thomas of Advance Hong Kong, have recruited foreign journalists to give the other point of view back home. But many here are gloating over the prospect that the handover may run smoothly - that everything will continue as in the past. Should the story of the handover be less than some expect, however, every trivial, absurd and quirky aspect that makes Hong Kong so fascinating will be magnified under the foreign media's microscope. From the territory's point of view, it could be a massive public relations job of sorts. Hong Kong in all its economic splendour instead of its controversies and contradictions. Organisers have a delicate job, handling the large contingent of journalists responsible for telling the story of the handover. Jonathan Lange, one of many Government press officers involved in handover media arrangements, is confident everything will run smoothly. An air of excitement trails him as he rushes in to his office on the third floor of the St John's Building apologising for arriving five minutes late. 'I had to check out the fibre optic lines down at Wan Chai,' he mutters. From the handover ceremony co-ordination office in Central, he rolls out sheet after sheet of diagrams which depict the layout of the $85 million playpen for foreign and local media, otherwise known as the Press and Broadcasting Centre at the Wan Chai Convention and Exhibition Centre, which he is helping to organise. Open for business between June 15 and July 10, the sprawling 100,000 square foot area on the seventh floor of the existing convention centre will comprise a free seating area accommodating 600 people, 125 mini broadcast studios, rows of editing suites, a snack bar, and various counters set up by the Trade Development Council, the Hong Kong Tourist Association and the Government Information Services Department. 'I've been told,' says Mr Lange, drawing a verbal picture of the scale of the event, 'that there will be over 100 kilometres of wiring to distribute signals.' He shrugs off concerns over having to provide a trouble-free press centre for the media, citing previous APEC meetings where he surveyed the set-up. But he admits he has never tackled an event on this scale and says: 'You won't always please everyone.' Mr Lange lists a number of sites where cameras will be perched, including Government House, the Far East Finance Tower and the new ferry pier at Wan Chai and the Peak, which he terms as 'beauty shots'. All will angle to capture the modern image of economic success, the steely urban jungle that has sprouted from the 'barren rock'. Atop the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, the BBC will occupy almost double the amount of space of 15 other broadcasters combined, including representatives from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the US. The Academy will also be turned into a miniature version of the Press and Broadcasting Centre, with three of its four floors rented out to the media - including an entire floor occupied by the BBC. 'It is quite exciting,' says Philip Soden, the associate director (Operations) of the academy, which often rents out the rooftop for commercials, fashion shows and films. 'Besides our own performances, it will be a nice way to contribute to the handover.' For Hong Kong's entrepreneurs, eclectic personalities, democratic crusaders and rebellious children, dealings with the foreign press are expected to intensify. Emily Lau Wai-hing, is among this oft-quoted batch and along with Martin Lee Chu-ming, is frequently represented in foreign media as the democrat spokesperson. Lau estimates requests for interviews from international new organisations averaged 40 a month this year. While many legislators shun the public light, the former journalist says, 'I try to see as many as I can.' Ms Lau laments over the days when she used to receive up to 15 calls a day from local media organisations. In recent months, most calls come from a couple of local newspapers. When pressed for an explanation for the decline, she says, 'Don't ask me, ask them.' But for highly symbolic figures such as Governor Chris Patten, the requests for interviews have increased to a great extent. His office has been inundated with an estimated 300 since late last year. 'The vast majority of interviews are for the last week [before the handover] of course,' says Paul Brown, deputy press secretary for Government House. 'Everyone wants the last interview with the Governor.' 'There are too many to count,' says Elin Wong, a press officer for Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa. 'But we have to turn down a lot. He is very busy now. But we tell them we will keep them on file if he does have time.' With the top figures likely to have their every move hounded (the press centre will be running 24 hours a day), Yvonne Ng Chi-ying is tasked with booking the policy secretaries, the Governor, the Chief Executive-designate and the Chief Secretary for press briefings for the two weeks before the handover. As a principal information officer with the Government Information Services overseas public relations section, she says she will also co-ordinate activities - or 'backgrounders' - for the media. Organised press briefings will be arranged so that government officials can explain, 'what will happen to Hong Kong, after 97.' And, in order to 'give them a picture of what makes Hong Kong tick', as Mr Lange puts it, tours of sites such as Chek Lap Kok, will be conducted. The Hong Kong Tourist Association, which has to battle constantly with media reports tinged with negative political stories, will also organise historical tours for journalists needing background information. The HKTA press kit will include a guidebook, a map of Wan Chai and a CD-ROM containing 240 'highly publishable' photographs of Hong Kong, says Peter Randall, HKTA's spokesman. 'I think [journalists] are going to be looking for new angles because so much has already been written about Hong Kong, and it is not always positive. 'And they may be coming with their stories pre-written and just need some quotes to fill them out . . . we hope to show them the other side to Hong Kong.' Having already appointed students and businessmen as ambassadors overseas, and distributed more than 150,000 pamphlets containing questions and answers about the territory in the post-handover period to counter negative publicity, the HKTA will attempt to capitalise on the handover with its '100 Days of Wonder' campaign to be launched on July 1. 'We'll be launching it as the new era,' he says, acknowledging the HKTA must present a clear image of Hong Kong to people abroad. '1997 has brought unprecedented world coverage and we want to harness that knowledge and awareness and say, 'Look you can come now, but you can also come back in six months' time and nothing will have changed.' It is a message many are hammering at relentlessly, but one that will likely be overshadowed by the political events of the territory - despite efforts to present a prettier picture to the international press.