Hong Kong paying millions to London PR firm to improve image, amid outcry over new security law

Carrie Lam’s administration pays more than £5m to counter negative coverage following protests

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 01 July 2020 12:20
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Hong Kong police make first arrests under new security law

The Hong Kong government has agreed to pay a British PR company more than £5m in an effort to combat negative coverage in the international media.

Announcing the one-year contract with London-based firm Consulum, the administration said a new communications strategy would “rebuild confidence in Hong Kong as a place to invest, do business, work and live”.

It follows a search for a PR agency willing to help restore Carrie Lam’s administration’s image following criticism over its handling of pro-democracy protests.

The ‘Relaunch Hong Kong’ tender document – first reported by industry website Provoke – admitted the government “did not effectively present its case to defend its actions or effectively mobilise the community to support law enforcement actions and condemn intimidation, doxxing, vandalism and the criminal and violent behaviour of rioters”.

It added: “This had a negative impact on global perceptions about Hong Kong.”

The announcement came as Hong Kong police fired water cannon and pepper spray at protesters on Wednesday, after a controversial new national security law came into effect.

Critics claimed new rules on protest – signed into law by Chinese president Xi Jinping – will undermine the right to demonstrate and end the city’s judicial autonomy. At least two arrests have been made under the new legislation.

Consulum’s £5.6m contract follows bids from seven PR firms around the world. The Mayfair-based company, set up by former employees of Bell Pottinger, had attracted criticism for representing the Saudi Arabian government.

A Hong Kong police officer raises his pepper spray handgun as a man is detained during a march against the national security law

Hong Kong Public Relations and Communication Professional Union, a group made up of PR professionals, objected to the aims of the newly-awarded contract. “The best crisis management strategy builds upon facts and the ability to accept responsibility,” it said.

Brett Free, Hong Kong’s deputy director of information, defended the communications campaign on Wednesday, claiming it would allow the semi-autonomous territory to “reconnect with global audiences”.

He said: “This programme will help us to inform global audiences about Hong Kong’s economic recovery and responses to issues of international interest, including the facts surrounding Hong Kong’s efforts to address the Covid-19 crisis, and that Hong Kong remains always welcoming and open for business.”

The Independent has approached Consulum for comment.

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