UK international market research and data analytics firm YouGov has refused to state whether it “self-censored” a survey question proposed by an academic.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The City University of Hong Kong journalism school’s Associate Professor Tetsuro Kobayashi said on Twitter on Monday that the pollster refused to accept his proposed survey questions citing fears relating to the controversial national security law: “YouGov Hong Kong requested me to drop some survey items as they might violate the HK NSL,” he said. “According to the local team, the legal advice was made by local lawyers as well as YouGov’s legal sections in the APAC team in Singapore and the UK headquarter[s].”

There are no specific laws which forbid certain questions from being posed in a public survey. However, last month, police raided a local polling institution citing an apparent data breach.

Citizen News reported that, in June, Kobayashi was asked by YouGov to delete six questions – only two of which were about the new law. One question asked if participants agreed that the legislation was unnecessary as it damaged freedoms. Another question asked respondents if they agreed the law was necessary to ensure safety. Other questions related to the police and the Covid-19 outbreak. Dr Kobayashi did not respond to questions from HKFP.

YouGov ‘wants to know what the world thinks’

When asked about the controversy, YouGov did not directly answer as to whether it had rejected any questions from Kobayashi. “YouGov wants to know what the world thinks. We are dedicated to pursuing this goal within the laws and regulations of the markets in which we operate,” Stephan Shakespeare, the firm’s CEO and co-founder, told HKFP.

YouGov refused to confirm or deny whether it had self-censored. When asked to clarify what law they were referring to, a spokesperson said they had “no further comments at this moment in time.”

Founded in 2000, the firm is listed on the London stock exchange and has interests in China.

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.

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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.