|The meeting between Dr. Chung and Professor S.L. Wong on 29th January, 1999|
Dr. Chung said that after the release of the results of the polls on the popularity of the Chief Executive and the performance of the SAR Government in late December 1998 they were published in the newspapers and that he gave interviews to the press.
He said that the Ming Pao Daily reported him as saying that "the result shows that the credibility of the Chief Executive and his SAR Government is getting the red signal and they will be probably going into some kind of governability crisis."64
He said that the newspaper stated that he said: "in November and December the survey shows that the people's satisfaction with the Government has already bounced back, probably because of what happened in the stock market and real estate market. This had some kind of dampening effect on the downward trend."65
He said that the Ming Pao on 28th December reported that he, Dr. Chung, "suggested the Chief Executive to be extra careful, to be very cautious, in handling minor political issues. For example, he said, Mr. Li Ka Shing had expressed his concern about some political parties harming or destroying the harmony, the overall harmony of Hong Kong, and that is detrimental to the investment condition in Hong Kong. That might have expressed what the Chief Executive himself thought, but the Chief Executive should not say he agrees to it and explain the economic depression by this reason of political disharmony. Otherwise, if the Chief Executive got it wrong this time, he will continue to lose his credibility."66
He went on to say that most of the newspapers "round at the end of 1998 basically used headlines to carry out [our] polls and said the performance of the Government and the Chief Executive was at a record low."67
It was against the background of these reports that the meeting of 6th January, 1999 took place followed later in the month by the meeting of 29th January.
Dr. Chung said that Professor S.L. Wong's secretary fixed an appointment with his secretary to see the professor at 9.30 a.m. on the morning of 29th January at the Professor's Pro-Vice-Chancellor's office on the Vice-Chancellor's floor of the Knowles Building.
He said that he did not know what the meeting was about and that Professor S.L. Wong first explained "that our conversation was going to be a private one."68
It is important to bear in mind that 4 days later Dr. Chung was to be orally examined on his Ph.D thesis by a panel which included Professor S.L. Wong.
He said that he "soon realized" that the conversation was not about his thesis and said that "
Professor Wong also said that he had something very difficult that he had to say to me" and "that he did not want to interfere with my research or to meddle with academic freedom."69
We pause here to remark that these words, if said, are of particular significance as they indicate, without more, that the speaker was well aware that he was treading on dangerous ground when making the request that was to follow.
Dr. Chung went on to say that "what he had to say to me was that the Vice-Chancellor had received a message. The message was that the Chief Executive had indicated to the Vice-Chancellor that he did not like the opinion polls we were conducting, especially the polls which gave ratings on the Chief Executive's popularity as well as the SAR Chief's (Government's) performance. Professor Wong asked me to seriously consider the question."70
He said that the Professor went on to tell him that the University should be politically neutral and that his "polls had been regarded by some people as being not politically neutral."71 That this would not be so if he were to use the name of a private company and that the effect of his using the University's name firstly added to the credibility of the surveys and secondly that if the University were "deemed to be politically not neutral then it would affect its future development."72
He said that he then raised the fact that as other universities were doing similar polls why was there a problem with the Hong Kong University's polls.
The answer to this was in three parts. Firstly that as other institutions were conducting polls there was no need for Hong Kong University polls; secondly that Hong Kong University polls were most frequent and most influential; thirdly that "we did not have to mind" about the conduct and the opinion people held about other polls.73
Dr. Chung said that he asked how the message had been conveyed to the Vice-Chancellor and was told that the "CE actually had regular meetings with the Vice-Chancellors of universities and such meetings would include, for example, activities which take place at social functions.".74
Dr. Chung said that he was also reminded that there might be conflict between the role of a pollster and a political commentator.
To this he said that he had only made political comments on very few occasions, that they were strictly confined to his surveys and that they were only his personal opinions. It was then that Professor S.L. Wong raised the letter on electoral reform that Dr. Chung had written to the Chief Executive.75
Dr. Chung went on to say he was asked how he selected the topics for his surveys.76
He said he explained that tracking surveys had a long history, that some surveys were done for Commercial Radio and that ad hoc surveys were decided taking into account public concern. He said, making this addition later in his evidence, that he had been told to be very careful in picking topics.
Dr. Chung said that after this conversation the POP team "rarely (took) the initiative to conduct ad hoc surveys on social issues"77 and that he felt unable to write forewords for his fourth and fifth combined POP Express Volumes, which were ready for publication, as he felt unable to reaffirm the declarations of academic freedom and intellectual integrity made in the forewords to the earlier volumes.
He did, however, continue with his tracking surveys on the Chief Executive and the SAR Government.
A telling answer in this regard was given to Mr. Patrick Fung S.C. who was asking why he had, in effect, made only the above limited response to the pressure which he said had been brought to bear.
He said: "I must say perhaps I was a bit naughty about that. We did not stop. That explains what happens afterwards."78
This answer seems to us to indicate his resolve to go on with his tracking polls whatever the pressure and his hope that a very limited response would be enough to silence the criticisms.
He said that he hoped if he could explain himself clearly to Professor S.L. Wong or the Vice-Chancellor "later on, or at some point in time, then the whole thing would have subsided or been resolved and I would not have to resort to any other measures."79
Dr. Chung was cross-examined at length by Mr. Warren Chan S.C. and, while he was clearly reluctant to state that other academics were lying and refused to be drawn into answers which involved a direct attack on their integrity, he steadfastly maintained that he was telling the truth.
He conceded that no action was taken against him after the January meeting. "I said there was pressure. There was no actual action. Is that clear enough ? "80
During an exhaustive cross-examination by Mr. Alan Hoo S.C. he agreed that his article in the South China Morning Post had distorted his words insofar as the article seemed to suggest that the Chief Executive's message had been both that he did not like the polls and that Dr. Chung should stop them when in fact what Dr. Chung was saying was that the injunction to stop had come not from the Chief Executive but rather from the messenger.81
Dr. Chung was questioned at length about the desire of the Vice-Chancellor and Professor S.L. Wong that he do "in depth policy research"82 of "high academic merit"83.
He did not disagree that this was so but added, and we think that there is both merit and commonsense in this view, that "opinion surveys are very important inputs to those studies, and we should not just stop the input side of these activities and just go to the output side of it, because ultimately if we are going to do the policy address where can we get the opinion data? Do we buy it?"84.
Dr. Chung denied that he was a political commentator but when Mr. Alan Hoo S.C. canvassed the letter which he wrote to the Chief Executive elect in June 1997 85 and reminded him of articles which he had written or appeared in, he elicited from Dr. Chung admissions that he had in the past made political commentaries86.
Let us say clearly that we are satisfied that at times he did assume the role of political commentator. Indeed this may well have been what gave rise to this whole matter.
Dr. Chung agreed that Professor S.L. Wong's advice that ad hoc polls should have a well-publicised mechanism governing their selection was good advice87 and that he had followed it by cutting down on such polls and that he did not regard that advice as political pressure but he was not prepared to concede that the advice as to the polls on the Chief Executive and the SAR Government was of the same kind88.
He conceded that there could have been misunderstanding between himself and Professor S.L. Wong89 but finally stated that he adhered to what he had said and was not going to withdraw any of it90.
We turn now to the evidence of Professor S.L. Wong. He said that he was Dr. Chung's superior in his Ph.D thesis and that this supervision was done at the Office of the Centre for Asian Studies in the Tang Chi Ngong Building.
By the beginning of 1999 the supervision had been going on since 1992.
Professor S.L. Wong said that after hearing from the Vice-Chancellor about the visit of Mr. Lo and "combining that with my other concerns, my reading of the recent newspaper clippings, my concern about the financial viability and also about the need to move more quickly into policy research then I decided I had better talk to Robert Chung, mainly because I felt that, since there were quite a number of substantive points raised by both the visitor as well as by other colleagues in the University, I should let him know about those concerns. I also particularly remember that mention about the political submission to the Chief Executive. I was not aware of that before."91
He said that he therefore asked his secretary to arrange a meeting with Dr. Chung at 9.30 a.m. on Friday 29th January, 1999 in his Pro-Vice-Chancellor's office in the Vice-Chancellor's Office area on the 10th floor of the Knowles Building.
He said that he "deliberately avoided" using his office in the Centre for East Asian Studies as that was the place where the Ph.D. work was generally discussed.
We interpose here to say that we find the timing, and to a lesser extent the place, of this meeting extraordinary.
It was only days before Dr. Chung's oral Ph.D. examination.
The concerns aroused by the newspapers, by financial viability, by the need for more policy research were at least a month old and were, in some cases, much older than that.
The only new factor was "the substantive points raised by the visitor" but those were only imparted to him, as the Professor says, in passing with no indication that he was to do anything in consequence of this intimation.
On what he tells us there seems no urgency yet he took it upon himself to summon Dr. Chung to his Pro-Vice-Chancellor's office at what clearly must have been a most stressful time for him with his oral examination only days away.
We cannot but ask ourselves whether it is credible that the meeting was instigated solely by academic concerns.
The Professor went on to say that at the outset he said that he wanted to keep the encounter private.
He went on: "I also realised that there might be misperceptions, therefore, I clarified right at the beginning that I was relating to him views expressed by other people that I had heard, and I thought he should take note of them. I did not necessarily share those views, therefore I made it very clear that part of the purpose of the meeting was for him to be aware of the concerns that I gathered from different sources."92
Again we interpose to say that the only concern that was not, to a greater or lesser extent, stale was the one which came from "the visitor."
The Professor went on: "I told him that there were doubts expressed on his conflicting roles as both a pollster and a political commentator. I also mentioned that there were doubts on his methodology and also on whether he was completely neutral politically"93.
Dr. Chung in his evidence said that methodology was never discussed.
As to the words "completely neutral politically", where, if Mr. Lo's, the Vice-Chancellor's and Professor S.L. Wong's versions are accepted, did they come from?
According to Mr. Lo and the Vice-Chancellor they certainly did not come from their conversation as both said that such an issue was never canvassed.
It is also Professor S.L. Wong's evidence that no question of political neutrality came to him from the Vice-Chancellor.
However we do know that one of the matters which Professor Davies says he was told at the meeting which was not attended by Professor S.L. Wong was that the visitor had raised was "the impartiality" of the opinion polls.
How can it be that Professor S.L. Wong who, according to his evidence, was never told of this concern came to raise it in his conversation with Dr. Chung?
The Professor went on: "I also mentioned that also there was a concern that the name of the University was often being identified with these polls when they were published in the press. I said that those views had been expressed by quite a number of colleagues within the University including the Vice-Chancellor, by people in the community and also by the Office of the Chief Executive."94
He then said the words actually used were: "some people from the Office of the Chief Executive expressed such a view."95
He then said that he asked Dr. Chung if he had sent a letter to Mr. C.H. Tung and that having received an answer in the affirmative and an offer to provide the document he rejected the offer as he felt that "there was no need for me to see the document."96
He then asked were the polls on the Chief Executive and the SAR Government commissioned or self-initiated and that, when informed that the latter was so, he asked why they were so frequent and was told that as they form part of the political tracking project they had to be done regularly.
He said that he told Dr. Chung that in his personal view quarterly monitoring would be enough97.
He said that he then asked how the POP team decided on the subjects for the ad hoc polls and whether there was a steering group to govern this selection98.
He said that other matters were then discussed and that finally he "did give him a piece of advice, and I made it clear that it was my personal view and it was only for his own consideration. I was not recommending any particular course of action. I did say to him in Chinese "Do not conduct so many of these polls."99
He said that it was clear that he was in this regard referring to ranking and rating polls such as those being done on the Chief Executive100.
So we have from Professor S.L. Wong that he was told sometime in January by the Vice-Chancellor that a member of the office of the Chief Executive had mentioned the following matters to him:
Were the polls conducted by Dr. Chung done in his own capacity or in the name of University ?
Did the University monitor Dr. Chung's polls?
Was there any conflict between Dr. Chung's role as a pollster and his role as a political commentator?
Accepting Professor S.L. Wong's version of his conversation with Dr. Chung on 29th January, 1999 it is clear that, in one way or another, each of these matters was canvassed in that conversation and that at the end of it Dr. Chung was advised not to conduct so many polls on the Chief Executive.
Professor S.L. Wong's own version comes dangerously close to the line of political interference with Dr. Chung's legitimate academic activities.
What we must ask however, is whether we accept Professor S.L. Wong's version or that of Dr. Chung. We shall answer this question after we have considered all the evidence. While we do not doubt that Professor S.L. Wong has always had Dr. Chung's best interests at heart , was it this which motivated him to call the meeting on the 29th January and to say what he did ?
We shall have more to say on that score when we come to place that meeting in the overall context of the events from December 1998 to November 1999.