EXCLUSIVE hkfp banner ribbon top

Hong Kong democrats have slammed the government for “wasting taxpayer’s money” after spending just under HK$7 million on promoting the city’s controversial national security law.

The government told HKFP that it has spent at least HK$6,880,120 of taxpayers’ money on promoting the looming legislation, the details of which have yet to be revealed. Public calls for support have appeared on billboards, trams, buses, on TV, radio, social media and in newspapers, despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam repeatedly saying she did not know the details of what the law includes.

national security law poster
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

HKFP submitted enquiries to the Information Services Department (ISD) last week, who said no information was available as the campaign was still being rolled out. But after submitting an access to information request earlier this week, the ISD revealed there were at least nine types of public advertisements for promoting the national security law as of Friday.

These ads appeared in MTR stations, on the bodies of buses, trams and minibuses, as well as large outdoor billboards and posters. Most of the them simply state “National Security Law. Preserve One Country, Two Systems. Restore Stability.” The total cost of these ads amounted to HK$4,074,850.

ItemCost (HK$)
MTR TV platforms advertising867,700
MTR escalator crown advertising596,300
MTR 4-sheet panel advertising412,000
MTR/Light Rail in-train tube card268,000
Bus body advertising439,450
Tramcar advertising231,000
Minibus body advertising107,800
Outdoor billboard advertising975,000
Banners and posters177,600
Social media advertising200,000
TV advertising post-production62,850
Carrie Lam letter newspaper placements2,542,420
Table: HKFP.

In addition to the print and indoor/outdoor campaigns, the government has also produced TV ads related to the national security law. The production was carried out in-house, with post-production totalling HK$62,850‬.

Fees for publishing an open letter from Chief Executive Carrie Lam in 13 local newspapers last month totalled HK$2,542,420. Meanwhile, ad placements on social media cost HK$200,000.

There was no cost to the TV and radio ads, as free-to-air broadcasters are obligated to transmit government messages, a spokesperson said.

National security MTR ads
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Pro-Beijing officials have hinted that the law may pass in the coming days, ahead of the July 1 pro-democracy march.

YouTube video

‘One-way brainwashing’

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan criticised the government campaign as lacking content, as the promotional videos and posters did not include details of the proposed laws. Chan said that, together with the lack of public consultation, the ads amounted to “one-way brainwashing.”

“The campaign is an insult to Hongkongers and a waste of taxpayer’s money. [The government] wanted people to ‘not ask, just believe.’ Even when citizens know nothing about the legislation, they were still asked to trust the government,” Chan told HKFP in a phone interview.

Claudia Mo
Claudia Mo. File photo: inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0

Another pro-democracy lawmaker – Claudia Mo – agreed that the spending was wasteful: “It’s a political issue. Judging by our polarised, very split society, those who are for and those who are against will stay put and hold on to their views, with or without the government propaganda,” she told HKFP via text message.

national security law
MTR lighbox ad. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“But it shows the Carrie Lam government is still keen to put on the veneer, to show at least the rest of the world that they are still making an effort, trying to convince the HK public, with HK money…” she added.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly rebuffed questions about what the law entails, admitting that she has no details herself.

YouTube video

Last Tuesday, Lam asked by reporters whether China would have jurisdiction over certain cases under the impending legislation, as suggested by Deng Zhonghua, the deputy head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office the day before.

Success! You've joined the HKFP Dim Sum mailing list

Lam said she could not comment on the content of the proposed legislation, as the clauses were still being drafted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress: “Right now, the drafting of this national law is being carried out by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, therefore I cannot comment on whether its clauses have such content or how it will be interpreted.”

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.