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.
The rules effectively bar freelancers, student journalists and workers for unregistered online media from covering police press briefings, and entering cordoned-off areas such as those created during last year’s anti-government protests.
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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 press freedom.
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, and radio and television broadcasters.
In response to criticism of the move, Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung said the force would help facilitate the reporting of recognised journalists, after it identified people claiming to be from the media and obstructing officers at public events as an issue.
“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 matter with pro-establishment lawmaker Elizabeth 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 Lam’s reference to special arrangements for journalists did not amount to “privileged treatment” because 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.
“On 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 dropped 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.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Seven Hong Kong journalism schools blast police’s media access restrictions, warning of threat to city freedoms
- Hong Kong police limit access to press briefings to news outlets recognised by government, sparking concern and criticism from media groups
- China’s ministry tells foreign journalists’ club to ‘stop meddling in Hong Kong’ after concerns raised over new police media guidelines
This article Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam denies police media move amounts to suppression of city’s press first appeared on South China Morning Post