Dr. Chung and the POP Surveys

Dr. Chung holds a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Hong Kong and is a Research Officer in the Social Sciences Research Centre ["SSRC"] in that University.

SSRC was established in January 1987 to promote research within the University; to foster ties with outside research institutes; to undertake contract research and consultancy; to explore external funding sources and to serve as information clearing within the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Under the umbrella of the SSRC in June 1991 a Public Opinion Programme ["POP"] was established to collect and study public opinion. It used a variety of research designs including telephone, postal, door to door and groups interviews. By December of 1998 the POP team consisted of nine members headed by Dr. Chung. They were carrying out "Commissioned surveys" for which they would charge outside bodies and self-funded surveys.

The subjects for the latter the SSRC itself decided. They included both periodic tracking surveys which followed a single subject and non-tracking or one-off surveys which were also referred to as ad hoc polls.

Dr. Chung said that he was concerned to ensure that the surveys did not serve any commercial or political interests. We can say at the outset that no challenge was made before us to Dr. Chung's integrity or methodology when conducting his polls.

From mid-1996 POP issued a monthly bulletin called the POP Express, which summarised the work of POP during the preceding months. It also at times issued POP Extras dealing with a single subject.

From 1997 a POP Bulletin was published every 6 months containing a summary of that half-year's work. There had been disagreement as to policy and approach between Dr. Bacon-Shone, the Director of the SSRC, and Dr. Chung prior to August 1998 when Dr. Bacon-Shone was transferred to the Central Policy Unit.

We are satisfied that these difficulties played no real part in the matters with which we must concern ourselves and we will not refer further to them.

The effect of Dr. Bacon-Shone's transfer is, however, important as even though an Acting-Director, Mrs. Castro was appointed, the control of the POP team and its choice of polling subjects appears to have been at the sole discretion of Dr. Chung.

There had, even before the transfer of Dr. Bacon-Shone, been misgivings about the role and financing of the SSRC.

It is not necessary to delve into the financing of the Centre suffice to say that while the POP Team was largely self-sufficient, because of its commissions, the SSRC as a whole was a considerable burden to the Faculty of Social Sciences.

This was so as the faculty allocation was determined by the number of students being taught and the SSRC being a pure research and coordination body had no students.

It appears also that it had not expanded to fill its intended wider role and as time went on its most visible operation was the POP programme.

The other misgiving was as to the academic value of the POP Programme.

On one side were those who considered it to be of little academic value and thought such work was better left to commercial organisations and that those involved would be better engaged in true academic research.

On the other side were those who thought it of value to have such work done by a trained, impartial academic.

The Panel feels it appropriate to observe in this regard that the polling work of an impartial academic must surely provide a much sounder basis for later in-depth research than that of commercial pollsters.

The Vice-Chancellor held the former view. We say immediately that we have no doubt that his view was honestly held.

An ad hoc group under Professor Lieh-Mak was set up in March, 1999 to advise on the establishment of an Institute of Public Policy (which was later called Policy 21) and it was hoped that if the SSRC was incorporated into that body its financing and role problems would be solved.

In May of 2000, but not as a result of the recommendation of the ad hoc group, the POP team was transferred into the newly established Journalism and Media Studies Centre under Professor Y.Y. Chan. Dr. Chung had sought this transfer and the POP team now seems to have a suitable permanent home in which it is independent and self financing.

All of this is, however, of little moment as regards our enquiry as it was never the contention of the Vice-Chancellor or any one else that any action to suppress or limit the polls was taken because of anything set out above.

As we shall see, in due course, the Vice-Chancellor contended that he had never taken any action to limit the activities of the POP group and its polls and had never intended that any one should do so on his behalf.

We are satisfied that the financial difficulties and the endeavours to find a proper home and role for the SSRC form no more than the background against which we look at the events of January 1999, November 1999 and July 2000.

We think it proper also, at this early stage to indicate that we accept the evidence of Professor S.L.Wong that he had the best interests of Dr. Chung at heart and was genuinely concerned that he further his academic career.

Among the more important tracking polls done by the POP team were those done on the Chief Executive and the SAR Government. These polls had been done on the former colonial government and on Christopher Patten and had been continued after the handover.

The polls pertinent to our enquiry are:
- 11/98: "The Public's Latest Evaluation of Tung's Policy Address".
- 11/98: "People's Evaluation of the Chief Executive's Economic Measures".

and the POP Tracking Surveys:
- "People's Evaluation of the Performance of the SAR Government (July 1997)"
- "Rating of the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (September 1996 )"

The results on the performance of the SAR Government were released in the format of a POP Extra on 28 December 1998 and those on the Chief Executive on 30th December.

The summary revealed that the public satisfaction with the SAR Government was 43% in the second half of 1997, 28% for the first half of 1998 and 23% for the second half of 1998.

The Chief Executive's popularity rating stood at an average of 57.7 in December, 1998. This was a quite respectable figure but it was down from the rating of 62.6 in the previous December and the average rating for 1998 was well down from the average in the previous year.

Dr. Chung said in his evidence that "most of the newspaper used headlines to carry our polls and said that the performance of the Government and the Chief Executive was at a record low"3.