Regina Ip reminds us (in case we’d forgotten) that the Hong Kong government’s PR and messaging is crap. She dwells mainly on the fact that the civil servants put in charge of the Information Services Dept lack the skills for a serious communication job. And her examples support this: dismal over-detailed/-technical press releases on Covid, and the hilariously clunky ‘rejoinders’ top officials issue every time foreign politicians or press have the audacity to comment negatively on Hong Kong affairs.
But even a talented PR guru would find it impossible to craft publicity, speeches and press releases that convince audiences that Hong Kong’s government is doing a good job and the community is in excellent shape.
If you round up dozens of democratically elected politicians and jail them for over a year with no bail and no trial, all because they held a primary election, your reputation will be damaged – however you frame it. If you use the word ‘improved’ to describe a supposed election with only one candidate and just a handful of selected voters, people will mock you. These things sap your credibility and image of integrity. You can’t reverse that by ‘explaining’ better. You can’t sell shit by calling it sugar.
It was Beijing that imposed the policies that have ruined Hong Kong’s global image. But it seems that the communication itself is also being influenced by Mainland officials. Anyone reading Hong Kong government press statements in the last few years will have noticed the rapid Mainlandization of the language – those rejoinders shrieking about overseas commenters ‘interfering in Hong Kong affairs’ and the insistence that barring popular candidates equals an ‘improved’ election system are in CCP house style. So warm-and-fuzzy wording of press releases isn’t an option anyway. (Today’s guest BS at the top.)
Hong Kong officials worried about the city’s PR might be wondering how Taiwan or Ukraine do it so well, for example on social media. Put simply, they are on the right side of history and have good stories to tell.
Covid – and related quarantine and social distancing rules – has left hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong working people on reduced incomes. Yet the ‘pay trend survey’ gives civil servants pay rises of up to 7.26%. The Standard’s editorial delivers a suitable rant.
But in fact it’s much worse than it seems. By focussing on (selectively measured) private-sector annual salary hikes, the government diverts attention from the longstanding massive gap between the private and public sectors’ base pay levels. The last survey on this – by PWC back in the 2000s if memory serves – found that civil service salary levels were over double those in Hong Kong companies. That survey was swiftly buried and forgotten. The percentage increase is a sideshow.