Academics and a journalists' union have accused the government of avoiding responsibility for its decisions by announcing new policies at private briefings rather than at formal news conferences. Journalists attending these private briefings, often give by senior officials, do so on condition that their reports attribute only anonymous or 'government' sources. Unlike formal news conferences, such briefings are not broadcast directly by the electronic media and in recent months have been held to discuss major policies such as those affecting the smoking ban, covert surveillance, central slaughtering and the Tamar site development. Political analyst Ivan Choy Chi-keung from the Chinese University observed that many of these policies were put into effect soon after they had been made public. 'The government wants to portray an image of strong governance, which has been stressed by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen since he assumed the Chief Executive's office. 'The government also wants to make a sharp contrast with the Tung government, many of whose policies failed to be implemented even after lengthy public consultation,' he said. To Yiu-ming from the Baptist University's department of journalism, noted that the government was trying to give itself an 'undefeated platform' by allowing it to manipulate the information it wanted to portray. 'If there is something wrong about a policy after it has been disclosed via an unidentified government source, the government can shun responsibility by simply denying the news,' he said. Mr To added that the current approach had blurred the line between news and rumour. 'The public will be at a loss. People will wonder if a story appearing in the papers was the real deal or only hearsay,' he said. Cheung Ping-ling, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, was also concerned by the trend towards unattributable briefings. 'Now it seems the government decides to use the method and to disclose information to all newspaper and electronic media. It is hard to say, however, that one day it will not do this selectively. Then, only some obedient media may have access to the information,' Ms Cheung said. 'Donald Tsang always says press freedom is the core value of Hong Kong that we should treasure. But then he is destroying it now.' A senior government official denied that there was a growing trend towards replacing news conferences with closed-door briefings. The official said the government used news conferences and briefings to supplement each other when disseminating information. The government also dismissed allegations of conspiracy when it opted for unattributable briefings on the Tamar project and the central slaughtering proposals. These two briefings, the official said, served to provide the media with more details about the government's submissions to Legco and District Councils. 'Sometimes officials may not be able to elaborate in detail about its rationale during [an on-the-record] press conference. The media will also be able to ask more detailed questions at [unattributable] briefings,' the official said. The official insisted that the government had always regarded its relationship with the media as important and that it gave all media organisations equal treatment when it came to disseminating information. Disclosures Policies disclosed by the government this year at anonymous briefings. January 24, smoking ban: The government reveals it has struck a balance between public health and business interests of the tobacco industry to make Hong Kong a smoke free city by July 2009. February 11, covert surveillance: The government reveals it will be business as usual for law enforcement authorities carrying out covert surveillance until the six-month grace period provided by the High Court expires. March 31, central poultry slaughterhouse: The government reveals a central poultry slaughterhouse in Sheung Shui, estimated to cost $200 million, will be built by a private company. April 1, Tamar site development: The government reveals it is determined to push the project through and there is no room for discussion on where the new headquarters should be built.