New Year's Day Numbers For Hong Kong

There were several scheduled public demonstrations in Hong Kong.  As I have said many times before, the reported number of demonstrators reflects the political position of the reporter.  So let us see if you can tell who is on which side for the biggest march of the day.  This march is a protest against politicians endangering the status of Hong Kong as a global financial center.

In Hong Kong, it is clear the lessons during year 2004 have sunken in.  All the six local newspapers adopted a hands-off approach -- they will report the organizer's number as well as a police estimate, and they will not say anything about which is right or wrong.  Fair and balanced?  Balanced yes; fair dubious because it is not fair to the readers.  This is now an equilibrium state that all the media have agreed to play by these rules.  In other words, it is a license for march organizers to come up with astronomical numbers because the media will not challenge them anymore.

As for the media outside of Hong Kong, they are a total disgrace.  Let me repeat: a total disgrace.  They are just pushing their own political agenda, and they are willing to bolster their own cases either by selection/omission (Xinhua and China Daily) or even outright fabrication (Boxun and China Post).

Is this really that important?  I will now point out a small near-incident.

 The Sun

[translation]  The number of marchers has always been controversial.  Certain 'old hands' at organizing mass events will volunteer the number of marchers to the media.  But yesterday's organizers of the anti-politician rally were inexperienced and did not report the number to the media until near the end of the march.

During this period, certain electronic media had to use their own estimates.  One reporter filed a statement that there were over one thousand people in the march.  When some of the marchers found out, they believed the number was intentionally understated and they began to boo and yell at that reporter.  During the chaos, there was some pushing and shoving.

Apple Daily

[translation]  Some marchers were not happy with some of the media.  "You are reporting lies!"  When one female television reporter was delivering her report, some marchers took protest banners and stood right behind her and forced the broadcast to be terminated.  Some marchers were unhappy with a radio reporter saying that there was only 1,000 people in the march.  They yelled, "More than that!  We have several tens of thousands of people!"

Is this intimidation of the media?  Or just forcing the media to do an honest job?

(Hong Kong University Public Opinion Programme)

The following is a scientific, no-nonsense and objective approach to estimating attendance:

[translation]  During the march, it is not possible nor feasible to count everybody.  So we set up an observation post on the pedestrian overpass near the intersection of Queens Road and Ice Factory Road.  For every minute, we counted the number of people who passed the point.  Then we for rested one minute.  Afterwards, we repeated this procecure until the march ended.

The crowd took up two roadways on that day.  So we assigned four workers, two per roadway.  One of them faced the crowd as it approached, and the other look at the backs of the marchers as they moved away.  We take the average of the two observers for each lane.  We took notes and video records of the crowd.  We estimated that there were close to 9,000 people who passed our observation point.  We did not include those who left before then or joined later.  According to the HKU POP survey, between 3% to 8% of the marchers did so.  So our estimate of the total number of marchers is between 9,200 and 9,700.

Here are the details:

Period First Lane Second Lane Total
11:44-11:59 2,082 1,660 3,742
12:00-12:15 1,602 1,200 2,802
12:16-12:32 1,392 1,022 2,415
TOTAL 5,077 3,882 8,959