The Hong Kong establishment is sending the public mixed signals on the subject of political neutrality in the run-up to the legislature's elections in May. The cultural activities sub-committee of the Provisional Urban Council (Urbco) banned a handover film produced in part by Christine Loh Kung-wai from this year's International Film Festival, on the grounds that it would give the ousted legislator an advantage in her election campaign. But the council's standing committee yesterday overturned the sub-committee's decision, suggesting that the assessment of whether the publicity will help Ms Loh should be left to the electoral affairs commission. The Urbco dispute looks like a storm in a teacup because the publicity that Ms Loh can gain is likely to be immaterial, given the small audience the film festival normally attracts. Warranting more attention on the subject of political neutrality are incidents that will affect the greater public. One prime example is the meeting between Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) representatives on the eve of the Government's announcement of the compensation package for CA Pacific Securities investors. Immediately after the meeting with Mr Tung, also attended by a few representatives of CA Pacific Securities investors, DAB leaders outlined the Government's compensation plan to a gathering of investors, leaving the impression that the package was secured by the party's efforts. Given that the CA Pacific dispute has clearly become an election issue for both the DAB and the rival Democratic Party, it is surprising that the Chief Executive saw fit to grant DAB representatives an audience a day before the announcement. Perhaps Mr Tung believed that it was his duty to stay in touch with political parties to keep abreast of the views of the community and that was why he agreed to meet the DAB. If this is indeed his judgment, then he must be told that he has made a mistake. There are many ways that he can keep up with the community's views and there are channels for him to keep in contact with the parties. But there is only one option if he is to remain politically neutral during the election period, and that is to avoid getting involved in the parties' electioneering. While officially the election campaigns have yet to kick off, informally, political parties, especially those vying for the geographical seats, have already started their campaigns. The bird flu, the Budget, the importation of labour have all been used as election subjects. Political parties are lobbying for the grassroots, putting pressure on the Government and claiming credit when their demands are met. All along, Hong Kong officials have taken care to stay neutral, but Mr Tung seems to have yet to follow suit. Apart from the meeting on the CA Pacific dispute, Mr Tung also met the DAB earlier on the bird flu crisis. The meeting was granted after the DAB failed to get a meeting with the acting Chief Secretary for Administration, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, who quite rightly decided the subject should be discussed with all parties at the panel of the provisional legislature. Mr Tung can no longer claim that he is new to the job and that is why he is not familiar with the norms of the bureaucracy. Given the credibility problem suffered by the provisional legislature, Mr Tung should be even more alert to the importance of staying neutral and being seen to be impartial in the elections. Any indication, perceived or real, of favouritism will undermine people's faith in the fairness of the election.