SCMP Tuesday, August 22, 2000


Extracts from the final submissions

Robert Chung Ting-yiu

This is probably not the correct platform to discuss the importance or academic value of opinion polls. This should be done in academic seminars, not here, not during administrative meetings. Unfortunately, this university does not have an academic department which studies public opinion. The Journalism and Media Studies Centre should be the correct platform, but it is too new.

In America, in 1999, 44 per cent of their National Association for Public Opinion researchers were academics, 37 per cent were commercial people and 19 per cent came from government or non-profit sectors. Academics around the world have been debating the spiral of silence [a theory on opinion evolvement] for years, but no one in this university seems to be aware of it.

However, [many] local scholars working in political and statistics departments have used opinion data for academic publications, especially in areas of political development and methodological studies. Their views are definitely important in any discussion on the academic merit of opinion polls.

If we turn to the community value of opinion polls, there could be very little doubt that the most important indicator of political development in an open society is people's satisfaction with the performance of its political leaders. This is not a matter of individual popularity. It is an important measurement of political stability and social integration. Dropping the measurement of government performance and people's support of the supreme leader is intellectual stupidity and political naivety.

Even if we were to retreat to the position of treating opinion polls as mere expressions of peculiar interest by individual scholars, there is no reason at all why such activities should be affected by any political pressure. The University of Hong Kong, at its senate meeting of March 1, 1994, has already considered the Lima Declaration on Academic Freedom and Autonomy of Institutions of Higher Education (1988), and "noted with satisfaction that it [the Declaration] contained endorsements of the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy already set out in the university's own missions and goals".

According to Paragraph 3 of the Declaration, ". . . all members of the academic community have the right to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind and without fear of interference or repression from the state or any other source."

As I wrote before, it remains the duty of the panel to determine whether anybody has attempted to, or succeeded in, interfering with academic freedom in this university, and whether such interference, if any, was intentional, unintentional, direct or indirect.

Personally, I will respect the finding of this panel, whatever it may be. I believe that all witnesses concerned have already tried their best to recollect what happened. Whatever ambiguity which this panel cannot resolve will probably never be resolved, as far as what happened within this university is concerned. I sincerely hope that this will be the end of the torture to myself and my colleagues. Shall there be another panel set up to study the incident, I hope it will work along the line of studying the events in the context of our cultural values and practices in order to prevent similar incidents from occurring again in this and other universities.

Pro-vice-chancellor Wong Siu-lun

I have come to the end of my statement. But I do not know how to conclude. Of course, the central issue is related to the question: what is the nature of this incident? We have a few answers now. We know with some certainty what this incident was not about. As Robert told us, it was definitely not about the Chief Executive asking him through an intermediary to stop his polls. He also told us that it was not about the vice-chancellor or myself suppressing his academic freedom. Then what was it all about?

Robert gave us some valuable clues when he questioned Mr Andrew Lo last Thursday. During that cross-examination, he bared his soul to us. We came to realise that for him, the incident was about whether the Chief Executive valued his polls. It was about whether the Chief Executive knew that he was a member of the Central Policy Unit, that his opinion poll data had been submitted to the Central Policy Unit and the Government for discussion. It was about whether the Chief Executive appreciated his hand-written submission on political reform. With these concerns weighing on his mind, he yearned for a dialogue with the Chief Executive or with members of the CE's Office. After his question and answer session with Andrew Lo, he said, "I feel that if we could have had this dialogue much earlier, it would have been much better for the world". So that was what it was all about. So what I had told him during our January 1999 meeting - that we should not care about who said what - was in vain. He cared deeply about what the Chief Executive said about him. He was prepared to go to great lengths to find out.

I want to put to him these questions which have been troubling me since our terrible ordeal started, but especially since he has bared his soul to us. Why was he so relentless in his quest for the support and blessing from the Chief Executive for his polling work? At what cost? Is it worth it? Is it worth all the damage he has brought to his colleagues, to the university and to Hong Kong? I think he owes us an answer.

Alan Hoo, representing Andrew Lo Cheung-on

In trying to find out the truth about the Post article, which is the genesis of the allegations, I have been accused of trying to shift the focus, employing lawyers' tactics, over the eyes of this panel. I thought that I was simply uncovering Dr Chung's true intentions from his article. I listened to him, because he said to us on the first day, "That is not what I said in the SCMP article." He made his submissions. "Look at the Economic Journal." He brought his actual manuscript. I listened to him.

Is it not time that we should all listen to him too in respect of whether he is making allegations? The nature of the complaint, interference with academic freedom, is a complaint that looms very large in the public eye, for obvious reasons. People have said from time to time that his case is very important, because this case is all about academic freedom. What this case has also become is a cause celebre for this cause, that has been adopted by the media and a lot of other people in their own respective crusade. A lot of people have cast judgments on this case, cast aspersions on lawyers in this case, because they have already made their own judgments that there was interference with academic freedom. So what I would ask this panel to do is to bring this matter back to its proper perspective.

Lastly, members of the panel, there is one thing that I share in sentiment with Professor Ying Chan. These proceedings have brought a great deal of pain, a great deal of agony, not just to the distinguished scholars that sit here but also to everybody connected with this university.

It is a sad day that distinguished scholars, people who are of unquestioned integrity, people who have reached scholastic heights by their contribution and dedication to their work, should be brought through a hearing of this nature. The whole process of public scrutiny itself is already a sobering and salutary experience, and I would ask this panel to add to this experience by putting once and for all the matters under inquiry into their proper perspective.

Warren Chan Chee-hoi SC, lawyer for vice-chancellor Cheng Yiu-chung

The vice-chancellor's request for information from Robert Chung in January 1999 to prepare for the Andrew Lo meeting could not and did not constitute political pressure on Robert Chung.

The vice-chancellor had not asked Wong Siu-lun to talk to Robert Chung and was not aware of the January 29, 1999, meeting. The meeting was not reported to the vice-chancellor.

The vice-chancellor had not asked Wong to talk to Robert Chung, and when the meeting between Wong and Robert Chung on November 1, 1999, was reported to the vice-chancellor, and as was correctly recorded in the notes of the informal meeting held on November 12, 1999, nothing relevant to political pressure on Robert Chung had been brought to the attention of the vice-chancellor.

The two documents had not been delivered to or received by the vice-chancellor. There was no mention of any such documents in the notes of the informal meeting.

The memo dated November 25, 1999, was received by the vice-chancellor. But it is not evidence of political pressure, still less political pressure by the vice-chancellor.

The Mirror magazine article shows the concern of the vice-chancellor to protect the reputation of the University of Hong Kong. It has nothing to do with the vice-chancellor putting pressure on Robert Chung.

We find it difficult to describe the feeling and the suffering of the vice-chancellor since July 14, 2000. We urge this panel to clear his good name.