Hong Kong asks search engine to place correct national anthem info in top results following rugby row

The government has asked a search engine to pin the correct information about the national anthem at the top of their search results, the Innovation, Technology and industry Bureau (ITIB) confirmed to HKFP on Friday. Local media reported that the search engine in question was Google.

Hong Kong rugby players remained stonefaced as a protest anthem was played instead of the national anthem in Korea. Photo: Rugby7s screenshot via YouTube.

It came after “Glory to Hong Kong” – a tune popular among the city’s pro-democracy protesters in 2019 – was heard at South Korea’s Rugby Sevens instead of the Chinese national anthem “March of the Volunteers.” The November 13 match was between Hong Kong and South Korea.

The organiser had reportedly downloaded the top song listed when when searching online for the “Hong Kong national anthem.”

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the bureau said that the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) has been in close contact with a internet search engine’s Hong Kong branch since last week, as a song “closely related to the black-clad violence in 2019 and protests advocating for Hong Kong’s independence” had appeared in top results when searching for keywords related to “Hong Kong” and “national anthem.”

The ITIB added that its chief, Sun Dong, had met with the search engine’s high-ranking staff in Asia-Pacific public policy and government affairs on Monday, and “mounted solemn negotiations” about the situation.

Google search shows Hong Kong rock band Beyond’s “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies” as top result when HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in incognito mode on Friday. The song has been adopted by the pro-democracy movement. Photo: Screenshot, via Google.

Meanwhile, it said the OGCIO also wrote to the company on the same day to ask it to put “correct information” at the top of search results. The bureau said the search engine confirmed that they had received the request and would follow up accordingly.

“We clearly told the service provider in the meeting that certain search results were showing incorrect online information. That, not only, would easily serve as an excuse for acts by people with ulterior motives, but also [it could] mislead all netizens. It would also cause serious damage to the HKSAR, as well as the nation,” the bureau’s reply read.

HKFP has reached out to Google for comment.

When HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in English using incognito browsing mode on Friday, the top result referenced Hong Kong rock band Beyond’s “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies.” The song has been adopted by the pro-democracy movement.

‘No political motives’

According to local media reports, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan said on Friday that the Korean intern staff member who made the anthem blunder did not study in Hong Kong, nor had any connection to the city – hence, there was no evidence that the incident had political purposes.

The chief secretary also said Asia Rugby, the organiser of the rugby series in question, had promised to set up centralised storage for national anthems to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

Secretary for Administration Eric Chan meets Asia Rugby President Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai on Wednesday. File photo: GovHK.

Asia Rugby President Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai, who made a special visit to Hong Kong to apologise for the anthem mishap, also told Commercial Radio on Friday that the incident “did not involve any political or malicious motives.”

He said none of their staff members had been punished over the error as of yet, but he could not rule out that some employees might receive a warning letter or other punishment. However, he said that would be Asia Rugby’s “internal affair” and they will not disclose any action to the public.

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Hong Kong asks search engine to place correct national anthem info in top results following rugby row