Hong Kong: Optimism Belies Waning Trust

Among the four institutions measured by this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, Hong Kong’s government showed the greatest increase in trust, by six points, while government officials have also increased their credibility, up 10 points from an all-time low record of 29 percent in the previous year.

As the new government only took office in mid-2017, it comes as no great surprise that their honeymoon period has been accompanied by an increase in trust, especially among the general population. Whether it continues remains to be seen, particularly as wider discontent around issues such as housing, social inequality and political rights prevail.

However, a year of robust economic growth has undoubtedly helped build public confidence. Major cross-border infrastructure projects integrating Hong Kong closer to Greater China, as well as bullish retail and tourism sectors, have all helped drive a positive economic outlook, and Hong Kong looks set to continue being one of the most rewarding places in the world to conduct business.

But while the economy continues to be bullish, actual faith in the key four institutions has been on the wane over the last five years. According to this year’s Trust Barometer, the government is the most broken of the institutions at 31 percent. And in a year dominated by fake news globally, almost half of this year’s respondents say that they now find it hard to tell whether a piece of news is true or not.

However, there is some positive news for traditional media, with nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents trusting it as a source for news and information, up eight points to become the most trusted source. Online-only and social media also have enjoyed a boost in trust, six and two points, respectively, while trust in search engines and owned media platforms has fallen, down four and two points, year over year.

Nonetheless, a year of political change and stories about self-censorship have also driven up skepticism about editorial independence, and 40 percent of respondents are now disengaged with the news, consuming it less than weekly. Media integrity is also at risk, as almost two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) believe that news organizations prioritize supporting political ideology over facts, while almost the same number (61 percent) feel that advertisers wield too much influence on what news we get to see.

The picture is similarly stark for business, the least-trusted institution for six consecutive years—it’s now 16 points below the global average. Trust also has declined in 14 of the 15 business sectors surveyed, most notably financial services and technology, which have traditionally been the bellwethers of this market.

This contrasts with CEO’s credibility, which has corrected from last year’s sharp drop and saw the highest increase, up 13 points, across all voices of authority. As we head into the Chinese Year of the Dog, this resurgence reflects a growing appetite and opportunity for business leaders in Hong Kong to step up and take a lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose it.

Adrian Warr is managing director, Hong Kong.

Annie Spratt

linkedin