The government body in charge of the city’s international branding has defended its decision to share anti-protest material on its social media pages, despite a backlash.

On Monday, it shared a six-minute video on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, hitting out at demonstrators and the media: “#HongKong has witnessed unprecedented levels of violent protests with tensions inflamed by rampant fake news. Some foreign politicians & media were quick to blame Police actions to restore law and order. Here’s what we’ve been dealing with…,” a tweet read.

Text in the video, superimposed over news footage, claimed that “[i]nternational media, politicians and pressure groups often gloss over or ignore the violence, destruction and vandalism carried out by rioters.” It criticised the “terror and anarchy inflicted by vigilantes” and stated that police are facing lethal weapons “including guns, petrol bombs and explosives.”

Most commenters on Twitter posted footage or images of apparent police brutality in response, whilst others highlighted the decision to deny the Human Rights Watch chief entry to Hong Kong this week. By Friday, the tweet had received over 147 comments, though few retweets.

According to its website, Brand Hong Kong says is “a strategic communications programme to promote Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s world city’.”

Since protests broke out last June, originally against an extradition bill, Brand Hong Kong’s social media feeds mostly shared news of arts, music, gaming and sports events, as well as facts and figures about the city’s economy and Greater Bay Area. Its website, meanwhile, carried links to press releases, global ad campaigns and letters to newspapers defending the government as thousands hit the streets to demand police accountability and full democracy.

YouTube video

Brand Hong Kong Chief Information Officer Claudia Yeung told HKFP that Brand Hong Kong responded to media reports it felt were unfair or factually incorrect: “We cannot agree that the video ‘attacks’ the media in any way. The text on the video states: ‘Rampant fake news and misleading reports created to inflame the situation’… The Government and Police have often responded to false online rumours on discussion forums and social media platforms.”

When asked about the video’s claim that police had faced protesters with guns, she referred to police seizures of firearms and a December incident in Tai Po where a man fired a live shot at officers.

hong kong on ad
Photo: BrandHK.

Last September, the government published ads in newspapers internationally stating that the city will bounce back: “[W]hat you read, see, hear – ‘share’ on social media – is just one piece of a complex social, economic and political jigsaw puzzle. It is a puzzle that we will solve on our own.”

According to a transcript obtained by Reuters, Chief Executive Carrie Lam told business leaders that eight global PR companies had been approached to relaunch the Hong Kong brand. However, four “immediately declined because that would be a detriment to their reputation to support the Hong Kong government now.”

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.