SCMP Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Chung stands firm as poll inquiry heats up


Defiant pollster Robert Chung Ting-yiu on Tuesday said those trying to discredit him would ''fail'' as sparks flew at the second day of the University of Hong Kong inquiry into the ''Chung affair''.

Dr Chung, who claims he was told by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa via messages from the head of the university to stop polls on Government popularity, grew visibly irate as he was subjected to a barrage of repeated questions over his role in going public with his allegations.

Vice-chancellor Cheng Yiu-cheng's lawyer attacked Dr Chung for publicising his ''serious allegation'' without first checking with Professor Cheng that this was correct.

''I put it to you that this was a most irresponsible thing to do,'' Warren Chan Chee-hoi, SC, said.

''That is your opinion sir!'' retorted Dr Chung.

Mr Chan, who sought to find holes in Dr Chung's explanation of events, said he did not believe the pollster's claim ''to speak the truth''. He told Dr Chung: ''Do you know I am challenging your credibility?''

''I know,'' Dr Chung replied.

''I am challenging your integrity.''

''I know, but you will fail,'' Dr Chung said.

Earlier Mr Chan demanded to know if Dr Chung was certain he had explicitly been told that his programme would be ''dried up'' if he did not stop his polls.

Dr Chung said: ''I am positive my memory is still correct,'' adding that the distinctive phrase ''yum guan'' (''dried up'') was not one he was likely to forget.

The question was repeated by Mr Justice Noel Power, the head of inquiry panel, to which he replied: ''Yes, I am certain.''

Dr Chung said that the Chief Executive's alleged warning, spoken via Professor Wong Siu-lun, had influenced his work.

Dr Chung said that he had sent Professor Wong a letter in November 1999, asking that it be forwarded to the vice-chancellor's office. In it he argued that ''it is unwise to stop the polls'', because ''we will lose our credibility and neutrality and the media would ask for a reason''.

In the same letter he also proposed adding the following proviso to his poll results: ''The survey represents the views of the individual researcher, not the University of Hong Kong''.

Dr Chung claimed that he had received no reply from either Professor Wong or the vice-chancellor.

He spoke of feeling under great pressure in January 2000 after Professor Cheng circulated widely a newspaper article criticising his methods as a ''political conspiracy''.

''I was very nervous when I received that article,'' he said.

''I had a discussion with Dr Ng Kai-wang [former acting director of the Social Sciences Research Centre] and he believed that it represented the escalation of the vice-chancellor's actions.''

Responding to the Mirror Magazine article, Dr Chung wrote to the vice-chancellor denying he had had ''any political agenda or hidden motives,'' and said ''all our surveys have reached the highest professional standard.''

He blamed the media for distorting his polls' findings, saying that the media had ''highlighted the negative side of the results''.