Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (April 9):
Regarding exit polls conducted on election days, will the Government inform this Council whether:
(a) currently, the Government requires organisations or persons applying for conducting exit polls to declare their background and political affiliations, etc.; if so, of the relevant procedures; if not, the reasons for that; whether the Government will investigate the background of the applicants or applicant organisations when assessing their applications for conducting exit polls; if it will, the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) it knows if the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) will take immediate actions when organisations conducting exit polls disseminate relevant polling information during polling hours to candidates or political parties or bodies which these organisations belong to or are friendly with; how EAC ensures that such situations will not arise; and whether the candidates are required to include the costs of the polls concerned in their election expenses when they are informed of the interim results of exit polls during polling hours; if so, how it ensures that the candidates truthfully declare such costs; if not, of the reasons for that; and
(c) it knows if the EAC will consider adopting more measures to enable voters to identify organisations conducting exit polls (e.g. requiring the interviewers of such organisations to wear vests which are printed with the names of the organisations concerned); if not, of the reasons for that, and how EAC ensures that the interviewers concerned will not deceptively claim that they belong to other organisations?
(a) Both the "Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the District Council Election" and the "Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the Legislative Council Election" (the Guidelines) have provided detailed guidelines for the conduct, publication and broadcast of exit polls. Under the provisions of the Guidelines, the organisations or persons who intend to conduct exit polls need to apply in advance to the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) with the following information:
(i) their respective names and addresses;
(ii) the name, identity document number and contact telephone number of the responsible persons; and
(iii) a list of persons employed for the conduct of exit poll at each polling station together with their identity document numbers.
The applicants are not required to declare their political affiliation. Nor would the Government investigate their background. In regulating exit polls, we consider that it is also important to ensure the freedom of speech, of the press and of academic research.
(b) Under the current Guidelines, there is no specific regulation on the use of information collected through exit polls. Nevertheless, any announcement of the results of exit polls or predictions during the polling hours may affect elector behaviour and may have an impact on the election results. In the existing guidelines, the EAC reminds the media and organisations concerned that they should not announce the results of exit polls or make specific remarks or predictions on the performance of individual candidate or list of candidates in geographical constituencies before the close of poll.
According to the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (Cap. 554), "election expenses" in relation to a candidate or group of candidates at an election, means expenses incurred or to be incurred, before, during or after the election period, by or on behalf of the candidate or group for the purpose of :
(i) promoting the election of the candidate or group; or
(ii) prejudicing the election of another candidate or group,
and includes the value of election donations consisting of goods and services used for that purpose. Relevant electoral legislation also stipulates in detail the compilation of the return on election expenses. Candidates should comply with relevant electoral legislation in working out whether and how any expenses on exit poll should be counted towards their election expenses.
(c) The existing guidelines stipulate that interviewers of exit poll are required to wear an identification device showing the identity of the organisation or person conducting exit poll. At present, prior to the polling day, the REO also announces to the public the list of persons or organisations allowed to conduct exit polls and displays such a list at the respective polling stations. To further enhance the transparency, the EAC has proposed the following new measures in the Proposed Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the LegCo Election (the proposed guidelines) issued on March 25:
(i) to release also the contact telephone numbers of persons or organisations allowed to conduct exit poll to the public prior to the polling day for the reference of the public and candidates. Such a list will be displayed at the respective polling stations;
(ii) to require the interviewers of exit poll to make known to the electors the name of the organisations or persons conducting the exit poll at the start of the interview and that the exit poll is not commissioned by the Government.
The EAC also suggested a new measure in the proposed guidelines so that, before the grant of approval, the person or organisation allowed to conduct exit poll will be required to sign an undertaking to abide by the guidelines governing the conduct of exit poll. If any person or organisation concerned fails to comply with the guidelines, the EAC may make a reprimand or censure which may include the name of the person or organisation.
The EAC is currently conducting public consultation on the proposed guidelines till April 23, 2008. We would welcome views and suggestions on the proposed guidelines during the consultation period.
Ends/Wednesday, April 9, 2008