Hong Kong leadership candidate Carrie Lam taken to task over claim she doesn’t use off-the-record briefings

Veteran reporter reminds chief executive candidate that she used the sessions regularly while she was development secretary

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 2:41am

Chief executive election front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor faced a challenge from journalists on Friday for her claim that she had “never” held off-the-record briefings to spin the media.

Attending the forum organised by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Lam started off by saying she respected freedom of the press. “I have never organised any off-the-record spinning sessions or given information in the name of a hidden ‘source’,” she said, adding that she would convene a press conference when she felt a need to clarify matters.

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Veteran reporters at the event were taken aback at her remark. Former association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting reminded her that she did have such meetings while she was development minister.

Lam then changed her tone: “I say I did not do so most of the time … I may have done it during the political reform exercise [a reference to the government’s failed attempt to change the way the chief executive is elected].

“Please remind me if you have more information.”

She said the closed-door sessions held when she was development minister “had nothing to spin on” and her bureau “could not be more transparent.”

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When Lam was secretary for development, she and her subordinates held regular background briefings for reporters when they submitted new papers to the Legislative Council. Back then, Lam told reporters such sessions served as “tutorials” where expert government staff could explain policies freely, without the pressure of being named.

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Lam also made a dig at her rival John Tsang Chun-wah. Without naming anyone, Lam said that she was not on the best terms with the media compared to other officials who “would have regular lunches with journalists in the canteen” and “who made phone calls to the media at night”.

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Before Lam’s session on Friday, another candidate, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, criticised Lam for putting a spin on the election itself, by telling media bosses in a private meeting that she decided to run in order to avoid a “constitutional crisis”, raising the possibility that Beijing would not appoint another candidate.

The remaining candidate, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, was asked why he seldom held sit-down interviews with the media before quitting to start his campaign.

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Tsang said he was often out of town for business and so chose instead to give stand-up briefings to reporters on the sidelines of public functions.

He said he would think about organising monthly sessions to answer media questions, if elected.