It is uncertain whether because of the government official's rudeness or media's creativity, many newspapers have recently quoted "Government's informed source" tried to elaborate the findings obtained from a public opinion poll conducted by Central Policy Unit as "Opponents are just like stepping on dog shit".
News by Ming Pao Daily on 22 March reported, "Government's informed source quoted from a public opinion poll conducted by Central Policy Unit, saying that 75% respondents thought Legco should endorse next year's Budget, implied 『the public opinion is apparent and explicit', and warned that if any political parties opposed the public opinion by giving a dissenting vote, they were just like 『stepping on dog shit', or would be attacked by the public."
News by Orisun used more polite wordings, "The government's informed source revealed, Central Policy Unit's opinion surveys found that more than 70% of respondents supported the Budget, the informed source worried the newly established Civic Party would heckle the Budget, and opposed the public opinion by giving a dissenting vote. They also said that if some councillors really acted in that way, they were actually bringing troubles to themselves."
Sing Dao Daily simply neglects the "informed source" as the origin of the news, only saying "the Government has already got the vote count, also they carried out a public opinion poll through the Central Policy Unit to measure the public sentiment. One of the direct questions asked the respondents whether councillors should support the Budget or not, results revealed that 75% respondents expressed a favorable stance …… If Civic Party does not care about the public opinions, and give a dissenting vote, although it is not as serious as stepping on a landmine, but at least they are 『stepping on dog shit'."
No matter whether the news should directly quote the vulgar words "stepping on dog shit" or polite wordings "bringing troubles to themselves", summarizing the news from various newspapers, that anonymous "government's informed source" seems to report a survey finding obtained from a public opinion poll conducted by Central Policy Unit to the media. Ming Pao has the following quote, "Government's informed source divulged after the Budget Talk, that Central Policy Unit has been carrying out opinion surveys which attempt to understand people's perception of the Budget. In the past month, people's supporting rate of the Budget has increased gradually. The informed source pointed out the survey basically consisted of two core questions, one of them asked whether the respondent supported the Budget, latest finding revealed that 70% of them expressed a favorable stance, more than 10% opposed, another 10% something did not comment. He continued to say that the Central Policy Unit's next question was to probe the respondents whether Legco should approve the Budget. Results showed that 75% of them thought it should be passed, those who objected or expressed no comment consisted of more than 10% each respectively."
Although the above-mentioning findings are different from the Budget follow-up poll conducted by HKUPOP on 21 March, the author can neither confirm nor deny the validity of the Central Policy Unit's survey. The author would like to remind everyone, especially those government's informed sources, that all kinds of survey-related information should be openly disclosed when those findings are publicly released or overtly divulged. The mass media also have the responsibility to query related details.
It is not the first time for the author to point out, that according to international standards, when any institutions including the media, government and political parties, etc. release the findings of a opinion poll, they should clearly inform the audience about the research method, sample information, full questionnaire content, survey period, sampling method, response rate, weighting procedure and sampling errors, etc. If this belongs to a survey for internal reference only, of course there is no need to do so. But for the government and other organizations to release those internal use findings to the public, they must clarify the details.
Take the Budget Poll conducted by the Central Policy Unit as an example, the informed source seems to release the two questionnaire topics to the media, but the whole questionnaire design, available responses, research methodology, sample information, etc are totally missing. The government has the responsibility to openly disclose related information in order to ensure the accuracy of the findings.
About nine months ago, the author criticized Donald Tsang when he attended the Legco Q&A session and heavily quoted the survey data obtained from Central Policy Unit but explained nothing about the survey details. Central Policy Unit later then disclosed the survey information in more details, which is praiseworthiness. However, after a while, the SARG still has not learned the professional practice of how to release survey findings.
Of course, nine months ago the CE quoted the opinion survey publicly, but now it is some anonymous informed sources who divulged internal use survey, they are on two different levels, the former one is open and aboveboard, the latter one is secret and hidden, looks like the difference between a noble person and a villain.
From the memory of the author, SARG used the method of "informed source" to selectively release the news to particular media, and there was an increasing trend in using this practice under Tung Chee-wah's leadership. After the Central Policy Unit changed their Chief Advisor, the SARG had increased the frequency to selectively release some internal use figures. Whenever anyone from the society or from Legco Councillors asked the details of the surveys, the officials would shut their mouth, and totally ignored the international guidelines. Is this intentional? Or ignorant? Only god knows.
The author predicts if the Central Policy Unit can openly release the details of their Budget Poll, apart from not bringing any pressure to the government, it can also build up a good role model. Since currently there are some personnel changes in the Central Policy Unit, CE Donald Tsang should take this opportunity to reform the unit so that they can re-learn the scientific value of opinion polls and the professional standard of conducting polls.
From the media side, if they do not want to lag behind, they should also follow the international standard to censor and deal with all kinds of public opinion surveys. If the government's informed source divulged any survey figures again, journalists can actually ask related pollsters to supply detailed information of the survey; otherwise they can reserve the right not to publish them. Or journalist can ask other government departments to verify and disclose those information publicly, this is exactly the same expectation as the author did mention in this article. But if the journalists found difficult to do so, or due to any political or market demands, at least they can add a statement "Survey information are not available" when they report relevant news. This is the minimum expectation of the author towards the journalists.