Hong Kong Free Press, along with 11 other media groups and journalist unions, wrote to Hong Kong’s three chief executive candidates this week asking them to urge the authorities to give digital media outlets full access to government events and facilities during election day on March 26.
Leadership contenders Carrie Lam, John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing were invited by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) to write to the Electoral Affairs Commission to indicate their intent to include online-only outlets in their events, including those held at vote counting and press areas.
Currently, media outlets without a print edition are barred from covering government-run events, receiving press releases or asking questions of officials.
Among the three leadership hopefuls, former judge Woo replied to the HKJA on Wednesday, saying that he had written to the Electoral Affairs Commission to ask what arrangements have been made for digital media on election day.
“My platform states that the authorities should not blanket refuse to recognise digital media and prevent them from providing live coverage,” he said. “I will actively follow-up.”
The fight for access: Let us report
Earlier this month, the Journalists Association made a direct appeal to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to allow access for all media outlets. It also condemned the lack of access to a media tour of Stanley Prison in February.
International press freedom watchdogs the Committee the Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have voiced support for HKFP and condemned the ban. NGO Amnesty International also urged the government to reform the outdated policy this year.
Last year, the Ombudsman urged reform, calling current rules “vague” and “unfair”.
The 24-hour international news channel Al-Jazeera has reported on HKFP’s fight for access, as has local broadcaster RTHK as well as the BBC.
#IFJ supports calls for digital media in #HongKong to be able to report on the elections #pressfreedom https://t.co/T7dKATiBiG
— IFJ Asia-Pacific (@ifjasiapacific) March 17, 2017
HKFP has produced 220 news stories directly related to the 2017 election. We have also published 218 news stories about Carrie Lam, 183 stories about John Tsang, and 65 stories related to Woo Kwok-hing. Our team have published over 7,500 news stories in almost two years and HKFP plays an important role in serving minorities in the city who do not speak Chinese. Our staff carry full accreditation, including HKFP and Hong Kong Journalists Association press passes.
We urgently ask that the government allows us full access to cover – in full – this rare and important event.
The letter in full:
Twelve journalists union and media groups urge you to write to Electoral Affairs Commission or any relevant department(s) to indicate your intent to include online-only media in all of your press events including those held in the media area on the election day and to demand the authorities’ facilitation of your intent. This will allow those media a full access to all press events and facilities.
This is our urgent appeal for your prompt action to include professional online-only media in the press activities organized by the Government in relation to the election of the Chief Executive on 26 March 2017.
Under the existing policy, the online media is excluded from all official functions and denied entry to locations where elections will be held. Not only does the present arrangement deviate from the government’s guarantee of a fair and open election, it is also against your pledge of upholding press freedom.
In this regard, we would also stress that the Ombudsman had concluded in her December 6 finding that the Government has offered no convincing justification for its ban on online-only media from its press events. The Government is obliged to facilitate press access as part of the protection of press freedom promised in the Basic Law. Yet, the Ombudsman’s call for the lifting of the ban has yielded no result. Nor has there been any move towards accreditation of online media. In fact, there has been no discussion, whatever, with the industry in this regard.
With less than ten days to go before the Election, the Information Services Department has provided no accreditation channel for the online-only media. Letters and emails sent by these media seeking registration for the election day press activities remain unanswered.
Given the significance of the Chief Executive election, such continued inaction is not only regrettable but also unreasonable. The press area, which will be located in the Hong Kong Convention Centre, should be spacious enough to include those journalists. Professional unions have already proposed different ways of accrediting journalists that are widely adopted by various authorities overseas.
We sincerely hope that you will fight for the accreditation of online journalists on the election day in the interest of the public. Your swift action on this will demonstrate a commitment to upholding press freedom and other core values of Hong Kong. Ignoring what has become an integral part of life worldwide is not in anyone’s interests, least of all the younger generation to whom the online medium is their sole access to the wider world.
Looking forward to your favourable reply,
- Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Free Press
- Hong Kong Journalists Association
- Hong Kong Press Photographers Association
- Independent Commentators Association
- Initium Media
- Local Press
- Ming Pao Staff Association
- Next Media Trade Union
- RTHK Programme Staff Union
- Stand News