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Speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration


Following is the full text of the speech delivered by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, at the HK Journalists' Association Fund-Raising Annual Dinner tonight (June 1):

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It's usual for me to preface my speeches with how pleased I am to be speaking at a particular function. And tonight is no exception, although I feel a little like Daniel being thrown into the lion's den. However, I hope the same fate doesn't befall me. On that occasion Daniel proceeded to put his audience to sleep!

Tonight, I don't intend to give a heavy speech. I believe my contribution to the HKJA's 33rd anniversary bulletin covers what I want to say about the values of a free press, the freedom of speech and expression in Hong Kong and the way they inspire confidence in our future. I have recited these values like mantra over the past six years. Discussing them again here will surely put you to sleep. Instead, I plan to make a few less serious remarks that are more in keeping with the lighthearted atmosphere of the evening.

It has been said that 'news is the same old thing, it just happens to different people'. I guess I'll have to wait much longer for the spotlight to shift to someone else. In the meantime, I'm rather amused to find that the soup and herbal remedies for curing my annual 'budget blues' cough have become a bit of a talking point in the media. It makes me wonder what you will have to write about me now that I no longer have to worry about the budget.

But, I do have praise for the persistence of the Hong Kong media. You must have the patience of a fisherman waiting for the bite and then the catch. I recall how some of you spent hours staking out my home in Shouson Hill - shortly after the announcement that I was to become Chief Secretary - hoping to get a photograph or a few quotes from me for a story.

On other occasions around budget time you would go through a similar ritual, in the vain hope of getting a scoop on the contents of the budget. And I had to watch carefully every word I said so as not to give away any secrets. But, of course, I was usually well protected.

You may not be aware that while some of my close staff call me 'boss', I often joke with them that they are the 'real boss'. My personal secretary arranges whom I could meet; my administrative assistant advises on what meetings to attend and what business to transact at those meetings; and my press secretary suggests what I should tell the media. Such a scenario conjures up visions of that great TV comedy hit, 'Yes Minister'. And while we can all laugh about it, at the end of the day it's nothing like that.

I remember well a visit to New York last year when I and two of my colleagues had to be on the road at 5 am to prepare for a TV interview at the studios of one of the large financial networks. This particular network is famous for its early morning breakfasts. So, while I was in the studio being grilled by the programme hosts, my staffers were in the network's 'canteen' enjoying what can only be described as a breakfast fit for a president.

Nevertheless that is little or no compensation for the work that they are involved in when preparing for press conferences or major announcements. A lot of time and effort go into the preparations for a major media event like the post budget press conference or the launch of our new Hong Kong brand. There are lines-to-take and long lists of possible questions that the media might ask and suggested answers to these questions, not to mention other background materials.

But sometimes all that hard work goes astray because you, the reporters, have a habit of asking questions that we didn't think of, or have nothing to do with the subject we're there to talk about. Seriously though, that sort of questioning keeps us on our toes, makes us think quickly and hopefully allows us to give you a quotable quote or - in electronic media parlance - a good sound bite.

And while my colleagues and those of other departments might bemoan the fact that they have to gather all this information - in the knowledge that most of it won't see the light of day at the press conference - it is usually put to good use in other ways to promote the particular government initiative. So their time and effort are not wasted.

Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the 'go west' mission concluded earlier this week. It was unique in two ways - the largest Hong Kong mission of its kind to the Mainland and, more important, the biggest concentration of media representatives for such a government-led delegation. Although I haven't met everyone here tonight, I hope some of you were fortunate or unfortunate enough to have covered the visit.

For me, and I hope for the journalists on the mission, it was a hugely enlightening experience to see the vast and diverse nature of our country, the great extremes between the developed and the undeveloped. The endless opportunities open to Hong Kong, and all the challenges that come with it. More than that, we were a large group of Hong Kong people - government, business and the media - working together. Indeed, I would like to see this sort of spirit prevailing in future missions, but ones that won't have such a gruelling itinerary.

Can I just say congratulations to all those who covered the visit and survived in one piece. For those of you who were not able to make it, let's hope there will be opportunities for other missions, whether in the Mainland or elsewhere, where we can work together for the future benefit of Hong Kong.

Thank you and good luck with your fund raising efforts - but please don't put too much pressure on me tonight. Like the economy, I'm still recovering!

End/Friday, June 1, 2001


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