Hong Kong Free Press is among other local digital media currently blocked from attending government press conferences and even accessing government press releases as they are published.
On October 27, an HKFP reporter sought to report upon a weekly press session with the Chief Executive. Despite carrying proper credentials, including a HKFP and Hong Kong Journalists Association press pass, they were denied entry on the grounds that HKFP does not have a print edition.
Since its inception in June 2015, HKFP has also been fighting the government’s Information Services Department for rightful access to press conferences and the Government Information System (GIS), an interface used by the government to issue press releases and notices to the media.
The denial of access is not only fatal to HKFP’s business when competitors have free access, but it hampers HKFP’s ability to fairly and properly represent the government’s point of view in a timely fashion.
A duty officer at the Information Services Department told HKFP by email: “In the absence of a legally binding registration or licensing regime as in the case of the mainstream media listed above, we are not in a position to distinguish among a wide range of “online media” organisations, nor is it possible for us to grant access to all those that claim to be “online media” for on-the-spot reporting, given the practical arrangements required.”
HKFP is a properly registered non-profit company with a physical office. It is run by full-time, paid, qualified journalists and has an obligation to report upon the actions of the local authorities. Equally, the government – which often heralds its supposed respect for press freedom – has a duty not to hinder its access.
An access to information request revealed that GIS access has been granted to overseas newspapers and broadcasters with very few links to Hong Kong, whilst bona fide local media titles remain in the dark. Outlets who are able to freely receive government announcements include the Jakarta Post, People’s Daily Online, Nippon TV, the Vietnam News Agency, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and a host of local and mainland magazines.
As Chinese online outlet InMedia often states, digital media has a bigger audience than print in Hong Kong. Yet it is unclear whether the government’s stance is due to archaic attitudes surrounding technology and how citizens consume news in the modern era, or whether the decision is simply political.
It is nevertheless absurd that officials are able to complain of unfair treatment by the media whilst the government simultaneously obstructs digital media from simply going about their work.
HKFP is now working with local and international journalism and press freedom watchdogs to encourage the local administration to urgently update its policies.
Last week, it emerged that HKFP is being blocked by censors in mainland China.