Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has disclosed to an audience of global business and political chiefs that she has faced pressure to tighten control of the press and journalists in light of the ongoing social unrest.
Lam also admitted her government’s handling of the now-withdrawn extradition bill, which sparked the months-long protests, was a political failure but blamed it partly on “world-class propaganda” against her administration.
But the chief executive, who was in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum, said she would remain in her post to “practise what she has learned” from her administration’s mistakes.
In a conversation with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Wednesday, Lam defended her government’s handling of the unrest which has rocked the city for almost eight months, saying it was an “underestimate” to say it was a mere democracy movement.
Lam said she had to uphold Hong Kong’s core values, including the rule of law and press freedom.
“For the government to provide a political response that the protesters or the rioters want to see … will not be a very prudent way of ensuring Hong Kong’s future and public interest,” she said, when asked if she would fulfil the protesters’ demands, including an amnesty for those arrested.
“I face a lot of pressure, not only from the protesters, but also from the anti-protest camp that I should control the journalists. I should make sure that they come to my office or police for identification documents before they can go down to the site to report,” Lam said.
“I would rather not. Because that will undermine freedom of media.”
Some media outlets, including public broadcaster RTHK, have been accused of biased reporting over the unrest, including allegations of siding with the protest movement against the government and police.
Last weekend, 100 people gathered outside RTHK’s headquarters to protest against what they viewed as anti-government bias in its programmes, calling the station an “accomplice” of the demonstrators.
Lam admitted her bid to introduce the bill, which would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreement, was “proven to be a political failure”. Among concerns over the bill were that Hongkongers could be extradited to the mainland for political reasons and that people would not get a fair trial across the border.
“[It failed] partly because of the nature of the matter and partly because of the very obsolete PR machinery of the [Hong Kong] government, especially facing a world-class propaganda that challenged us,” she said.
But Lam said she had no intention of resigning because of her failure.
“I have certainly learned a lot. That is why when people asked me to resign, I said: Can I hang in to practise what I have learned so I can leave behind a better infrastructure for Hong Kong to deal with challenges in the future.”
Rumours have persisted for months that Beijing may replace Lam, whose approval rating has dropped to a record-low 14 per cent, according to a Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute poll earlier this month. Beijing has repeatedly expressed its support for her.
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.