At 10am tomorrow, 17 top government officials will gather round a conference table in the basement of Government House for the final meeting of Governor Chris Patten's PR strategy group. Present will be not only Mr Patten and his aides from Government House, but also Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, and the other civil servants who play a role in managing the flow of official information. Ostensibly the purpose of these Monday morning meetings, which have become a regular fixture at Government House over the past five years, is to review the coming week's news events. But in practice other matters have often been discussed either in the meetings or around them - for instance, it was in the margins of the Monday meetings that officials mulled over how to ensure the Governor of a dependably supportive voice among the local media. Usually the meetings are sidetracked into an intricate analysis of how well recent press coverage coincides with the Government's 'news agenda'. Hostile commentaries come in for special scrutiny. (It is a fair assumption this column will be criticised at tomorrow morning's meeting.) If past performance is any guide, Mr Patten will probably complain about it being 'ill-advised and ill-informed'. Translated into ordinary English, this means the Governor thinks that it conveys an unfairly negative image of the administration. Such microscopic examination of the media may come as a surprise to those who expect senior officials to be too busy to waste much time worrying about what appears in print. But it is a natural by-product of Mr Patten's background. As Hong Kong's first politician-governor, it was probably inevitable he should spend so much of the past five years fretting over press coverage. Some of the consequences of this were highly positive. Previous governors all but ignored the local press, preferring to talk to overseas publications. Mr Patten changed all that, giving more press conferences and interviews to the Hong Kong media than all his predecessors put together. For the first time, Government House became accessible to the local press, with journalists even invited to assemble on the lawn for briefings. The incoming administration is unlikely to be so accommodating. Already the trend is clear, with Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa giving most of his interviews to foreign TV rather than local media. But, as in so many other areas of Hong Kong life, the relative openness of the past five years cannot simply be brushed aside. It is to be hoped that Mr Tung will appreciate the popularity which flowed from Mr Patten's accessibility, and retain at least some elements of this approach. But there are other aspects of the Governor's attitude towards the media that Mr Tung should certainly not try to emulate. Most notable among these is Mr Patten's unhealthy obsession with trying to control 'the news agenda'. It is not merely a matter of the time consumed by the Monday meetings. Policy initiatives have been delayed while further time was spent studying their PR implications, with no proposals allowed to go to the Executive Council until these were fully analysed. As we have seen number of times recently, usually decent officials have felt a need to be 'economical with the truth' because of pressure from Government House to keep to the officially designated agenda. Journalists may be flattered to see their articles provoke such reactions, but no one can seriously suggest it makes for good government. Mr Tung will do Hong Kong a great service if he can combine Mr Patten's openness towards the local media with a more relaxed attitude to what appears in print. A good first step would be to abolish the PR strategy group. If that is done, tomorrow morning's meeting should mark the end of the Government's obsession with controlling the news agenda - even if some of those who participate may miss the weekly chance to take pot-shots at critical columnists from the safety of the basement.