Planning strategically for the Legislative Council elections

Simon Fung - Veteran Journalist

[中文] [Jul 2012 - The Journalist] The Journalist invited me to write an article on the “battle” journalists face in the upcoming Legislative Council (LegCo) Elections. I am no longer in a position to comment on it, but I am pleased to share my views on the coverage.

The organiser says 400,000 took part in the July 1 demonstration.
This could be a boost to the pan-democrats in the September Leglo
election. (Photograph Courtesy of Ming Pao)
There is no definite rule for success in an interview: different media will adopt its own approach with the resources at hand. Even so, strategic planning is important in order to attain success. This is what I want to emphasize here.

Sometimes there is an element of luck during an interview. It is important, however, to remember that there are no free lunches in this world. If you want to maintain a consistent standard of news reporting, you need to remain disciplined, plan strategically, and prepare well beforehand.

The election battle involves many people and many different affairs; it’s never one man’s battle. And because planning is the way to success this provides journalists with the same goal of delivering fair and comprehensive reporting.

You may ask: How do we plan for the LegCo Election scheduled for September this year? I would like to put forward these three steps:

Step 1: The election schedule Information provided by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) ( is always the best place to begin.

Because the EAC has records of the four LegCo elections and four by-elections since the handover in 1997, you will be able to find the scheduled progress of elections on its website by clicking on “Notices” or “Report”.

Based on these records you will be able to estimate the timeline for different stages in the upcoming 2012 Election. For example, the day I wrote this article was the day the EAC released a list of provisional registers of voters. The previous list was released four years ago on the same day.

In fact, the LegCo Election document provided by the Government has set out two important dates:

Polling day: September 9, 2012
Nomination period: July 18 to July 31, 2012

It will probably be very close to the nomination period by the time you read this article. Reporters covering the election campaign should ask themselves: Do I have a comprehensive plan in place to report the contests for all the 70 seats? In the event that outlets don’t have adequate resources to cover the entire contest there is still a need to set aside sufficient resources to cover the most hotly contested seats, as well as the recently added “Super” District Council Functional Constituency seats.

At the very least one should consider which reporter is to be assigned to which district or political party, and also plans for the long run. Unless these are achieved, it will be difficult for your outlet to provide quality coverage.

Step 2: Allocating resources adequately with the innovations and important features of the upcoming polls in mind.

It is vitally important to gauge what sets your publication or broadcasting station apart from the others so that your target audience understand what’s currently happening during the campaign to ensure that they are not misled and that they have a say in the elections. This can be done by providing a conclusive view after each stage of the election process.

It’s also important to avoid inadvertently promoting – for free – for others’ political gain, and to adopt an approach which will not involve everybody jumping on the bandwagon.
There are three features in this year’s elections:

Firstly, the five newly-added Super District Council Seats will be the most hotly contested among the main political parties, because the Hong Kong public has the right to cast their ballot for who they want to fill these seats. This is also an opportune time for the parties to flex political muscles. It would be impressive to imagine a candidate for the Super District Council seats exclaiming “I am backed by more than 100,000 supporters!”

It’s also important to note that the candidates must expand their scope of affairs to not only include those at the district level, but of the whole of Hong Kong in order to win over as many voters as possible. We should scrutinize the candidates on their methodology of attracting supporters. This may become the campaign of the new government in the push to garner public support so it’s imperative that we do not underestimate these new seats.

Secondly, five new seats will be added to this year’s geographical constituency election: Two new seats will be added to New Territories East, while New Territories West, Kowloon East and Hong Kong Island will each have an extra seat. The new seats mean that both New Territories West and New Territories East will have nine seats in the legislature. Under the proportional representation system, “minority” candidates holding a 5-6% of the votes stand a chance of winning a seat.

What will this mean for the future political make-up of the legislature? Will there be more radical candidates? It seems that the media’s continued approach of focusing on “big name”  candidates or major political parties is out of sync with the times. Minority candidates have to be given adequate coverage, too.

At the same time, mainstream political parties will try to make use of each and every vote in hand, which may lead to more separate lists in this year’s geographical constituency elections. This will create problems for reporters who lack sufficient resources to cover the entire election. Large political parties will also come up with strategies on influencing their supporters on when and how they should vote.

Thirdly, this year’s functional constituency elections are slated to be more intense than ever, owing to the fact that the Chief Executive election earlier this year has resulted in a split of supporters within the pro-government camp. With a change of administration in Government House, we may also see a change in the pro-government parties in the legislature. The temptation to grab greater political power is addictive. This may lead to infighting among pro-establishment parties for greater control over the functional constituency that they represent. With this in mind, it’s questionable whether the pro-government parties, which will throw their weight behind Leung Chun-ying, will be able to effectively support his administration of Hong Kong in the coming four years.

Step 3: Establishing an interpersonal network

Political journalists take note: success means having a large interpersonal network. Or rather, news is inclusive of the following: ideas and networking. While building an interpersonal network requires time, it’s important that we work on this on a day-to-day basis to achieve what we have set out to do. An election campaign allows journalists to extend their network of contacts. LegCo election candidates always welcome media coverage to gain exposure. Journalists should be wary not to fall into the trap of becoming a “mouthpiece” of the candidates. It would not only damage your reputation, but also tarnish the standing of those you work with.

Some reporters once asked me how one should deal with negative news about his or her “source.” Is it okay to turn a blind eye? What would be the implications of publishing the news; would one lose an important contact? My response was that the facts should never be distorted; otherwise he or she would lose people’s respect. This could develop into a snowball effect which would invite harsh criticism and, in turn, make it harder for one to interact with other political parties in future – people may also label you a “mouthpiece” of certain politician or political party.

Close interaction with colleagues from your organization also presents another opportunity to widen one’s interpersonal network. For instance, a medical news reporter may help out with uncovering topics in the Medical Constituency. Moreover for the Commercial Constituency, economic news reporters are in tune with big corporations in the commercial sector. From my experience, the allocation of such resources can help political journalists extend their network. Reporters may also reach out to their Editor-in-Chief to help allocate resources to their advantage.