SCMP Thursday, August 17, 2000


Reading letter 'would have helped situation'


The head of the University of Hong Kong said yesterday it would have been "an entirely different story" if he had received and read a pollster's letter explaining his public opinion programme last year.

Vice-chancellor Professor Cheng Yiu-chung told the inquiry investigating alleged government interference in academic opinion polls: "If I had read it, then I would have asked to find out why there were so many concerns and problems in the mind of Dr Robert Chung."

The independent inquiry panel has been asked by the university council to look into claims made by Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu in an article he wrote for the South China Morning Post on July 7, and in his statement to the media a week later.

Dr Chung has alleged that pressure was put on him by the university authorities last year to stop conducting opinion polls on Tung Chee-hwa's popularity and the Government's credibility as Mr Tung did not like them.

Dr Cheng told the panel: "Then after I talked to Dr Chung, or talked to a supervisor or any other people - the director of the social sciences research centre - I would have appreciated the concern and the problem. Then I would have clarified the position very clearly.

"Today, in retrospect, if I had seen this, I [would] have had a chance to clarify it, and that is entirely a different story," he added.

The vice-chancellor said he was not aware of the document until he received it from the instructing solicitors for the panel, Johnson, Stokes & Master. He was referring to a paper dated October 30 last year, which Dr Chung, director of the Public Opinion Programme at the university's journalism and media studies centre, had asked pro-vice-chancellor Professor Wong Siu-lun to pass on to the vice-chancellor.

In a separate paper dated November 11 last year and submitted to Professor Wong, Dr Chung explained why "it would not be wise for us to stop our operation immediately". Professor Wong had earlier testified he had read both documents but had lost them.

Asked whether he agreed that the two documents were aimed at addressing the concerns of people other than Dr Chung, Professor Cheng said the letters addressed a perception that, for whatever reason, Dr Chung had concerns that other people were misunderstanding his work or wanting to ask him to do something to improve the situation.