The government is to lift its long-standing ban on digital media journalists at its press conferences. It will also finally grant online outlets, who do not have a print edition, access their press releases.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters on Tuesday morning that the government will be opening up access to online-only media following a review of the policy. She said that the Information Services Department will be proposing a reasonable, fair and practical mechanism.

“With the increasing prevalence of digital media, I believe that the government’s existing policy of imposing a blanket ban on online-only media and prohibiting them from attending its events and press conferences is behind the times,” Lam said.

carrie lam digital media
Carrie Lam. File photo: InMedia/GovHK.

She also said that five media industry groups have been consulted and it was generally agreed that granting access to digital media is the trend. However, she admitted that traditional media hold different opinions on whether digital media should be granted access.

Lam added that the objective was to ensure professionalism in reporting and for digital outlets to provide regular, original news to the public. The policy will be reviewed in six months.

Addressing concerns that opening it up to online media will mean a greater number of journalists at the official events, she said that the length of press conferences will be extended accordingly and this will also be taken into account when venues are chosen.

Lam said the details will be announced later on Tuesday and the government will begin accepting applications immediately.

The authorities had long-forbidden digital-only media from attending government events to ask questions of officials, despite pressure from journalism watchdogs.  A “review” by the Information Services Department had been under way since last December.

Cautious welcome

Shirley Yam, convener of Hong Kong Journalists Association press freedom committee and its Exco member told HKFP that she welcomed the decision: “We will monitor the implementation of its accreditation policy to ensure all media are fairly treated.  We call on the government to make corresponding adjustments to its press venue to accommodate the increase in journalists.”

hong kong journalists association press freedom
Photo: HKFP.

Tom Grundy, Editor-in-Chief of Hong Kong Free Press, said: “This long-overdue reform follows years of pressure from local and international press freedom watchdogs, criticism from media groups and NGOs, legal threats and hard work by reporters fighting for equal access rights. The Hong Kong government’s effort to modernise and recognise how voters consume news nowadays is commendable – we hope the new rules will create a fair, level playing field for all media.”

See also: Journalism watchdog laments rise of media ‘confessions’ and ‘red capital’ in Hong Kong

Over years, the government came under sustained pressure from Amnesty International, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), the International Federation of Journalists, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

The Ombudsman ruled last year that the government should end the ban, which it called an “unfair policy,” while the HKJA applied for a judicial review in March to challenge the outdated rules in court.

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During her election campaign, Lam signed a press freedom charter, pledging to grant digital media outlets equal reporting rights. The path has now been cleared for digital media reporters to attend her first Policy Address next month.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.