Hong Kong police called off their press conference on Monday after six journalists staged a silent protest wearing helmets with slogans accusing officers of lies and violence, actions that the force condemned as “disrespectful”.
A member of the group criticised police for the arrest of two journalists on assignment during the weekend clashes, and challenged the force on its insistence that it had not targeted reporters.
Reporters from RTHK, Ming Pao, Stand News, AM730, Initium and Inmedia sat in a row in the middle of the briefing room with helmets plastered with words that read “investigate police violence, stop police lies”.
The press conference at police headquarters in Wan Chai, scheduled to start at 4pm, was initially suspended for 20 minutes and later cancelled after officers repeatedly urged the group to take off their helmets or leave immediately but failed to eject them. Officers then left before the host declared that the reporters involved were denying the public their right to information. The lights were then switched off, leaving the journalists in darkness.
The regular meeting is held on Mondays and Fridays to enable the force to answer the media’s questions since the anti-government protests began in June.
The latest clash with journalists occurred a week after a reporter protested at a police media conference, accusing officers of mistreating journalists. That session resumed after a brief suspension.
On Monday’s aborted press conference – which other journalists in the room had urged the police to continue with – Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung, head of the Police Public Relations Branch, said they had no choice.
Officers later live-streamed their briefing on Facebook, giving the latest updates on casualties and arrests over the weekend.
Expressing deep regret over the “disrespectful act” of the six journalists, Tse said: “They deprived the public of access to important information from police. They also deprived other reporters of their rights to cover our press conference in order to disseminate key information to the public.”
Ronson Chan Ron-sing, executive committee member of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), a co-initiator of the action, said the move was not a protest to disrupt the event but just to show how they felt over alleged police mistreatment.
“We were planning to cover today’s press conference,” Chan, who is also a Stand News reporter, said.
He added that his company was aware of their plan. “We made changes to our attire to support the two reporters who were arrested by police on Sunday night while they were covering protests.”
He questioned the arrests of two journalists – a Stand News photographer and a student reporter from Baptist University, who is also a HKJA member.
Police critics, citing news videos, said the pair was carrying out reporting assignments on the scene without disturbing the force’s operations.
On the slogans displayed on their helmets at the press conference, Chan challenged the police claim that the force was not targeting reporters. He cited examples of frontline journalists being pepper-sprayed amid protests in malls and on the streets.
“I’d like to stress that reporters should not become main characters in the news,” he said. “But [recently] we have been targeted by police. We feel this is unacceptable.
I’d like to stress that reporters should not become main characters in the news ... But [recently] we have been targeted by police. We feel this is unacceptable
Ronson Chan, HKJA member
“We hope the force can show sincerity in monitoring frontline officers,” Chan said. “We hope for more cooperation between police and reporters. Do not target reporters any more.”
Another participant in the action, a reporter from Initium surnamed Cheng, dismissed accusations they were disrupting the conference. Initium is a Chinese-language online media platform based in Hong Kong. She said: “There was a change in our attire, but we did not disrupt order.
“It was police who decided to cancel the press conference and deprive the public of the right to know the truth.”
During the 20-minute standoff, one participant had removed his helmet, supposedly after receiving a call from employer AM730 but its management later denied this and said it had no plan to take action against the journalist, expressing understanding.
A spokesman for government-owned RTHK said on Tuesday the broadcaster had reminded its reporters not to take part in any activities that comprised fair reporting.
It said management had spoken to the reporter, who told them the aim of the protest was to express concern over allegations that police had treated journalists roughly and stopped them from doing their job.
The RTHK Programme Staff Union said it supported the action by the station’s reporter, adding: “We do not understand why police would find such a peaceful expression of views unacceptable.”
Chinese-language daily Ming Pao said its editorial department had always required colleagues to act professionally while covering news and that they should not take part in “non-reporting” behaviour. The newspaper said it would not punish the staff member concerned, and urged police to respect the rights of the press.
HKJA chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing said the action was jointly initiated with the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA), and supported by some unions and journalists.
Shortly before the incident at the police press conference, the HKJA released a joint statement with the HKPPA and unions from media such as Ming Pao, Next Digital and RTHK, as well as three online news outlets condemning what they saw as police’s arbitrary arrests of reporters. The groups also urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to stop alleged police violence.
The statement said police used different methods to obstruct the work of reporters. “We urge the chief executive to order the police force to stop interfering in the freedom of the press and allow all law enforcement actions to be recorded openly,” the statement read. “We also demand that police release reporters immediately.”
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