HK leader Carrie Lam denies police media move amounts to suppression of city’s press

26-Sep-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leader has denied that the move by police to allow only government-recognised media access to restricted areas amounts to a suppression of press freedom.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor weighed in on the topic for the first time on Friday, two days after the force imposed its new media guidelines.

The rules effectively bar freelancers, student journalists and workers under unregistered online media from covering police press briefings, and entering cordoned-off areas such as those created during last year’s anti-government protests.

Journalists leave the Festival Walk shopping centre in Kowloon Tong after riot police enter to clear the area of anti-government protesters last year. Photo: Edmond So

Journalists leave the Festival Walk shopping centre in Kowloon Tong after riot police enter to clear the area of anti-government protesters last year. Photo: Edmond So

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Local media associations and seven of the city’s journalism schools have urged authorities to reverse the policy, and warned it posed a threat to the freedom of the press.

But in a Facebook post, Lam said the government’s established news and media information system, which was recently adopted by the force, was an “objective, open and non-discriminatory” service platform to define media representatives.

“[The system] provides them with special arrangements during police operations, such as access to cordoned-off areas for interviews and specific locations for photography,” Lam said. “How can we say it’s a suppression of press freedom or screening of journalists?”

A day before, China’s foreign ministry told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club which had hit out against the police move as eroding press independence to stop “meddling in Hong Kong affairs”.

The chief executive said she had opened the platform to more than 30 online-only media outlets since she took office in 2017, but her Facebook post did not address the restrictions on student journalists and freelancers.

At present, there are 205 news outlets registered with the government’s system, including internationally recognised and reputable news agencies, newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasters.

In response to criticism of the move, Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung said it would help recognised journalists with their reporting, after people who claimed to be journalists, and who obstructed police at public events, were singled out.

“We should not allow anyone who may pose risks to officers to enter enforcement zones,” he said. “Those unregistered journalists could continue to do their reporting outside cordoned-off areas.”

Discussing the issue with pro-establishment lawmaker Elisabeth Quat, in an interview posted online, Tang said the force could not “please everyone”, but the rules were in line with international practice.

Under the changes, those working for organisations not recognised by the government are affected, even if they hold membership cards issued by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association.

This includes independent journalist Vivian Tam Wai-wan, a Chinese University lecturer, who published a book based on her frontline reporting from last year’s civil unrest.

Speaking on a radio programme, she said what Lam had referred to was not any “privileged treatment” to help reporting, as media workers should have the right to report freely from public areas.

Tam said she would defy the ban and called on Lam, or the police force, to clarify how they would deal with possible conflicts between unrecognised journalists and officers at protest sites.

“In many occasions, we were unknowingly included in the cordoned-off areas when clashes broke out. Are we going to be arrested in future?” she said.

As a journalism teacher, Tam added that it would be highly unsatisfactory to bar students from having on-site reporting training under the new rules, asking the authorities to reverse the policy.

Eight local media groups, including the HKJA, issued a joint statement on Thursday demanding the force drop the changes.

The association said it had consulted several barristers on whether the amended guidelines infringed freedom of the press as guaranteed under the Basic Law, and that it would file an application for a judicial review as soon as practicable.



Category: Hong Kong

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