The message is the medium

Whiny statement from HK Trade Office in London in response to a Times editorial.

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.

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8 Responses to The message is the medium

  1. KwunTongBypass says:

    Good try from Reg. But not good enough, and her „think tank“ will soon be among the next ones to get the chop. The CCP does not like organisations that „think”. Doesn’t she know – yet?

  2. Chinese Netizen says:

    Vag – completely incognizant – can’t be like an old soldier and simply fade away…

  3. Red Dragon says:

    Nice to see that old Reggie seems finally to have grown some cojones. I dare say that now her dreams of bagging the CE spot have evaporated, the old girl is less reluctant to put her head above the parapet.

    The fatal weakness of her ostensibly sensible observations is, however, that they are based upon an extremely dodgy premise, namely that the enormities of the current Hong Kong régime can be rendered acceptable merely by dint of improved “communication”.

    Alas for Reggie, this simply won’t fly, a fact which Hemmers has long been at pains to point out.

  4. Mary Melville says:

    When you consider the strong criticism of the civil service from various blue sources it would appear that the proposed pay increases with an emphasis on the higher echelons that they are in fact a desperate attempt to stem the exodus of capable administrators.

  5. Red Dragon says:

    Mary Melville

    The civil service has “capable administrators”?

    First l’ve heard of it.

  6. Cassowary says:

    Oh, if you thought that Hong Kong policy making has been sclerotic, uninspired and sophomoric for the last couple of decades, just wait ’til you see the John Lee administration. He (and his handlers) will be asleep at the wheel on every issue apart from throwing people in prison and silencing critics. The property developers (especially the mainland ones) are already smelling opportunities for regulatory capture and endless boondoggles. Who’s left to say “boo”? Come on down to John Lee’s Handcuff Emporium Cum All You Can Eat Buffet! Bring your own concrete!

  7. Penny says:

    Cassowary – concreting already in full swing around the Pokfulam/Victoria Rd junction continuing down and past the Wah Fu Rd junction.
    Does anyone know what is planned for this area?

  8. Low Profile says:

    If the civil service pays so much better than the private sector, how come they still can’t seem to recruit anyone at the upper levels with more than half a brain?

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