Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denied rumours that her administration will begin to require official registration for journalists in Hong Kong, adding that she supports the press in monitoring the government.
“We have no intention or plan to start a centralised registration system for journalists, not to mention doing any vetting on who can conduct reporting,” she told reporters on Saturday.
“Freedom of speech is a core value of Hong Kong, and I completely agree that the media has a role as the ‘fourth estate’ in monitoring the government. So our job is to facilitate and assist the work of the media.”
Chan Yik-chiu, the acting chairperson of the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, told Ming Pao on Thursday that a government representative informally reached out to him to gauge his reaction to the idea of a centralised registry. Chan immediately objected, saying that such an arrangement would exclude student reporters, freelancers and foreign media.
The Information Services Department said on Friday that, over the past four months, the police have had difficulties identifying journalists during their operations. The ISD would fully consult the industry before making suggestions, it added.
On Friday, Police Public Relations Bureau Acting Chief Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters that the force had kept in “close contact” with the ISD over media-related policies.
“We welcome any policies that would assist our work, especially policies related to the press,” Kong said. When asked how a registry can accommodate freelancers, student reporters and foreign media, Kong said the policy details are the responsibility of ISD.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo – a former journalist – criticised the idea of official registration as a “further step to destroy Hong Kong’s freedom of the press and freedom of information.”
“Hong Kong and international media organisations already have credentials for journalists, and in society there is a consensus that journalists will wear a reflective vest. There are enough ways to identify a journalist, but individual police officers harbour ill will towards them and deliberately obstruct their reporting, or even attack them,” she said in a statement.
“An official press card does not help reporters do their jobs effectively, rather it seriously impacts freedom of the press… if a registration system vets journalists and restricts the freedom to report, it will destroy a major advantage that marks Hong Kong as different from mainland China.”
Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) Chris Yeung also told Ming Pao that any registration system would be unacceptable and “there was no room for discussion.”
Hong Kong has seen over four months of citywide protests, sparked by a soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed fugitive transfers to mainland China.
Press freedom organisations have issued multiple statements criticising the police for their treatment of journalists. Earlier this month, the HKJA filed a legal challenge against the police over what it described as “a pattern of deliberately aggressive and obstructive police tactics as well as unnecessary and excessive force.”
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