Hong Kong’s IT sector lawmaker has said that some requirements online-only media will be expected to meet to access government press conferences and media events are outdated and unclear.

There are four requirements under the new arrangement announced by Carrie Lam on Tuesday. Digital media organisations must provide proof of regular online news reporting over the past three months immediately preceding the application; they must update their news platforms at least five days a week; and they must be staffed by at least one editor and a reporter.

Lawmaker Charles Mok said he considered the new arrangement to be a step in the right direction, but he cautioned against excessive limitations and burdens placed upon online media.

Charles Mok. Photo: Facebook/Charles Mok.

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.

‘Print’ copies

Mok said the fourth requirement – that organisations must be registered under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance – was an outdated practice.

“Certain requirements in the Ordinance have failed to keep up with the Internet development and therefore may pose challenges to online media of smaller scale,” Mok said in a press release on Tuesday.

One part of the ordinance states that copies of the “newspaper” must be delivered to a registrar appointed by the chief executive.

Mok said the government should review the requirements stated in the Ordinance “to cater for the mode of operations of online media.”

Digital Chinese outlet In-Media also issued a statement saying that the requirement of delivering website content to the registrar everyday was “out of date” and it will cause a heavy burden upon online-only media firms, which are often staffed by a small team.

In-Media also said the requirements on contents and staff size would be “too harsh” for small online-only media companies. It said that, according to its understanding of the requirements, the two staff members should be working full time, which would exclude volunteer-run media such as SocRec, a free online video service.

Originality and misconduct

The application guidelines for the Government News and Media Information System – which distributes press releases – were also updated for the new arrangement.

Section 4(b) of the guidelines states that media which do not produce in-house or original content, or mainly reproduce news of other media organisations, are not regarded as mass news media organisations and hence will not accepted.

Another part also states that publications and websites that are communication outreach or advocacy publications of non-governmental or non-profit organisations, think tanks or interest groups will not be accepted.

Section 7(a) states that the Information Services Department (ISD) reserves the right to review a media organisation’s subscription of the system, if representatives of the organisation concerned conduct any activity other than news-reporting, have committed misconduct – such as using foul language, causing disruption or protesting – or if they fail to follow the instructions of government officers.

Carrie Lam meeting press at the government headquarters. File Photo: GovHK.

Mok said the ISD should issue clear a definition on original content and misconduct.

“[An] appeal mechanism should be established for the evaluation of the criteria to be conducted in an objective manner,” he said in a statement.

He urged the government to consult online media organisations for feedback, and refer to the practices of the Legislative Council in issuing passes to online media. 

The legislature adopts a freer approach in allowing online media to report. Journalists are generally given temporary or long-term media passes with recognised press credentials, unless they were previously banned owing to misbehaviour.

Mok said the Article 27 of the Basic Law states that Hong Kong people enjoy the freedom of the press and of publication.

“Restrictions that would hamper freedom of online media should be minimised,” Mok added.

Photo: Citizen News.

‘Double standards’

Citizen News, one of several other Chinese-language online-only outlets operating in Hong Kong, was launched this year by veteran journalists. Mak Yin-ting, a director of the company, said she believed they will be able to meet requirements.

But Mak told RTHK that the warning over misconduct did not apply to traditional media: “If a traditional media commits such misconduct, why doesn’t the government demand a revocation of its qualification? Is this a double standard?”

The Hong Kong Journalists Association applied to the High Court in March for a judicial review over the lack of an arrangement for digital media. It was scheduled to be heard next year.

The Association said in a statement that it will decide on follow-up legal actions depending on the implementation of the new arrangement and legal advice.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.