The Hong Kong Journalists Association has sent an open letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, urging the government to allow its members to cover the upcoming leadership election on March 26.
Currently, digital media outlets – such as Hong Kong Free Press – remain barred from attending government events, asking questions of officials or receiving government press releases.
The watchdog said that the policy is “neither conducive to the promise of an open, fair and honest election as promised by you and your colleagues, nor in keeping with the government’s aspirations to have Hong Kong fully engaged in the digital age.”
It made reference to a ruling by the Ombudsman last December, which urged reform and criticised the ban as being outdated and unjustified. Despite promises the policy would be reviewed by the Information Services Department, no timeline has been set and media outlets continue to be hindered in their work simply for not publishing a print edition.
“Turning the online media away is certainly not the answer. It will only make Hong Kong a laughing stock and your pledge of ‘progressing with time’ an empty slogan,” the letter warned.
It said that its press cards have long been recognised by the police and legislature: “[W]e call on the government to accept our membership card as an accreditation proof on the election day.”
In January, NGO Amnesty International Hong Kong slammed the policy in a report on human rights in the city: ““Hong Kong prides itself in its status as an international city, but our government’s Information Services Department is still very backward,” it said.
International press freedom watchdogs such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have also criticised the government’s stance.
The letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in full:
We are writing to make an urgent appeal for the government to allow holders of our full membership cards to take part in press activities organized by the government on the Chief Executive election day on 26 March.
The barring of online only media from those activities include the press centre is definitely not conducive to the promise of an open, fair and honest election made by your and your colleagues.
As the Ombudsman has concluded in its December 6 ruling, the government has offered no convincing justification in its ban of online only media from its press events. The government is obliged to facilitate press access in a protection of press freedom promised in the Basic Law. Yet, the ombudsman’s call for the lifting of the ban has heeled no result. Neither has there been any proposal in the accreditation of the affected media nor any discussion with the industry in this regard.
Instead of waiting for the bureaucrats to overcome the inertia, we call on the government to accept our membership card as an accreditation proof on the election day. Holders of the card should be allowed access to all press events and facilities including the election centre on the election day.
Founded in 1968, the Hong Kong Journalists Association is regulated by the Trade Union Ordinance. Our constitution stipulates that only those earning majority of its income from journalistic works will be given full membership. Each membership application has to be vetted by an elected 12-member executive committee. Both the Hong Kong Police and the Legislative Council have long accepted our membership card as press accreditation.
We sincerely hope that this urgent measure can serve a compromise with any of your administrative or security concern. Turing the online media away is certainly not the answer. It will only make Hong Kong a laughing stock and your pledge of “progressing with time” an empty slogan.