Within hours of legislators complaining that an advert the MTR Corporation was running about the merger of its rail operations with the KCRC's was putting pressure on their scrutiny of the Rail Merger Bill, the government-controlled corporation withdrew the ad - a rare move. Members representing various political parties accused the corporation, in its advert, of not telling the whole truth about the merger. Two legislators urged the corporation to withdraw the advertisement. MTR Corp executives denied the corporation had intended to put pressure on lawmakers, and said it had pulled the advertisement to avoid any misunderstanding. Set against the background of chit-chat between pupils and their teacher in a classroom, the advert sought to soft-sell the benefits of the partly privatised corporation taking over the running of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation's rail lines for 50 years. The ad was launched after the release two weeks ago of a survey, commissioned by the MTR Corp, in which 52 per cent of those polled said they were unhappy with the merger's progress. There is no denying the corporation was trying to draw the public's attention to what it and the government perceive as slow progress on scrutiny of the bill. Put bluntly, it was a clear attempt to solicit the public's support and prompt lawmakers to speed up their work. Opinion surveys, letters to the editor, petitions and rallies, and newspaper and television advertisements have become regular features of debate on major issues. This is because public opinion has become increasingly important in the process of policy formulation. Government, legislators, public bodies and even business corporations ignore public opinion at their peril. The days when government officials and big corporations could make a deal behind closed doors, then have it rubber-stamped by the Legislative Council are long gone. At a time when the political system is only partly democratic, the process of policymaking is vulnerable to pressure from various sectors, such as the media and society at large. With the importance of public opinion in policymaking growing, various stakeholders and ordinary citizens now understand better how to fight for their best interests. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the MTR Corp moved to play the game, given there was no sign legislators would soon complete their scrutiny of the bill. By the same token, it is also perfectly legitimate for lawmakers to fight what they saw as pressure from the corporation. Whether the calls by some legislators for the ad to be pulled were excessive is for the public to judge. Even if the MTR Corp had decided not to withdraw the advertisement, there is little chance the issue would have caused a big controversy. Anyone who seriously thinks otherwise either overestimates the influence of lawmakers or underestimates the common sense and political maturity of the public. To claim, as some have done, that the call by legislators for the ad to be pulled was tantamount to political intimidation of the corporation is an exaggeration. Like many controversial Legco encounters, the row has proved to be a storm in a teacup. If anything, the controversy says something about the at times contradictory mentality of many in society towards the game of politics. While big corporations are resigned to the fact that they have to play this game, they have become hesitant and unsure about how far they should go when their political acts cause a stir. Some lawmakers, accustomed as they are to trying to put the government on the back foot by acting as champions of public opinion, overreacted when they found themselves on the end of someone else's publicity campaign. Perhaps it just goes to show that all's fair in the game of politics.