Magazine article Newsweek International

The Wages of Spin : Battered by Charges That It's Caving to Beijing, the Government Hires Pricey PR Talent to Fight Back

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Wages of Spin : Battered by Charges That It's Caving to Beijing, the Government Hires Pricey PR Talent to Fight Back

Article excerpt

Hong Kong's top attorney Daniel Fung insists he's not a "hired gun." But a think tank close to the Hong Kong government has hired the fast-talking, baby-faced barrister at a reported $1,200 an hour to defend the territory at a United Nations human-rights meeting this week. Since the Geneva hearing is for non-governmental organizations, Fung has registered as an NGO himself to infiltrate the proceeding. He's not welcomed by Hong Kong democrats, but Fung wryly calls it a necessary "intervention."

The gloves are off. Since the handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong officials have been dodging charges that they are gradually ceding their freedom and autonomy to Beijing. Now they're fighting back. The government has boosted its public-relations budget by 32 percent over last year's and is hiring new spin doctors like Fung to tell its side of the story. "They've gone flat out to reverse their negative image," says Michael DeGolyer, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who studies the postcolonial transition.

But PR can't erase the signs of deference to Beijing. In August, Beijing criticized Hong Kong's public radio station, RTHK, for giving air time to a Taiwanese official. Last month, Hong Kong announced the transfer of RTHK's director of broadcasting, Cheung Man-yee, a crusader for free speech, to a trade post in Tokyo. In two landmark court cases, involving flag-burning and immigration, government lawyers are hinting they will appeal to Beijing if they lose in Hong Kong courts. …

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