Two press associations on Thursday jointly called on police to stop what they described as the increasing violence and even attacks – both physical and verbal – against frontline journalists covering the city’s ongoing anti-government protests.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has received 42 complaints involving officers abusing reporters and cameramen over the past three months, but it believes it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Together with the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA), the HKJA gave more details of police violence, in cases when a number of reporters were pepper-sprayed in Mong Kok last Saturday, and reporters being called “black reporters” by officers, and having bright torches trained on them to make filming difficult.
“There are growing hostile elements among the police force, or at least a sizeable segment of it, towards journalists, as shown in their deeds and words,” HKJA chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing said. “Press freedom is under threat.” Both associations rejected police’s claims that there were “fake reporters” and that reporters had blocked police operation.
Yeung said they had found only one single case of an allegedly fake press card over the past months. They had reported the case to the police, which rejected a formal investigation and only followed the case up after the HKJA issued a public statement in mid-August.
Only some 80 press cards were issued to the 580 members of the HKJA, Yeung said, explaining that most press cards were issued by news organisations and stressed that students were ineligible for their press cards – a claim spread online among pro-police supporters.
Calling claims that reporters have obstructed police officers “unsubstantiated”, Yeung said they were tactics by police to justify their abuse of power and violence against journalists.
They stressed the importance of press freedom, in crushing rumours, on top of helping the public to know the truth.
“Look at the case of Prince Edward station. The police and the fire service still cannot clarify the situation, because all reporters were expelled on that day,” Yeung said, referring to rumours that protesters were killed in the police operation on August 31 after media were ordered to leave the station.
Officials have made multiple attempts to debunk rumours but many remain unconvinced.
The two associations urged the force to apologise for the increasing “attacks” on reporters, adding that they always welcome dialogue with the force.
“The last time we sat down [with the police] and talked was in early June … Since then we have made statements, we have staged petitions to the government, and there has been no concrete response from them,” Yeung said.
In response, Chief Superintendent of Police Public Relations Branch John Tse Chun-chung said the force had never blamed any “genuine and professional” reporter for obstructing them from performing their duties.
“We do not intentionally target the reporters,” Tse said.
“We respect their work, and hope they also respect our operations.”
He explained that as radical protesters were escalating attacks on police officers, the force’s top priority remained controlling the scene with high efficiency.
He also clarified what the force meant by “fake reporters”, saying there were people who wore neon vests and badges but ran away when officers approached them.
A student reporter and a protester who wore a neon vest and blocked police’s action had been arrested, he added.