Hong Kong’s police chief has personally apologised for any insult caused to journalists by a controversial clearance operation in Mong Kok, but remained non-committal over promises to ensure such actions would not happen again, according to media group representatives.
Commissioner of Police Chris Tang made the comments during an almost three-hour-long meeting with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA), the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association and the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists.
The meeting on Thursday was triggered by a Mother’s Day incident where crowds of people, including those wearing press vests, were kettled, ordered to squat and switch off their cameras whilst officers repeatedly pepper-sprayed them.
It occurred hours after pro-democracy protesters gathered in shopping malls across various districts to chant slogans and sing songs advocating freedoms in the city.
Eight organisations subsequently signed a joint letter to Tang – including the HKJA and the HKPPA – condemning police who “attacked, interfered and caused unbridled humiliation to journalists.”
The statement called for:
- an end to “verbal and physical abuse” of journalists
- officers involved in the Mong Kok incident to be suspended
- police to abide by internal guidelines
- a public apology to those affected on May 10
- an end to “fake journalists” accusations without evidence
- an outline of plans for improvement.
Chairman of the HKJA Chris Yeung said the representatives had a “candid” discussion with the police chief, who reportedly used the term “undesirable” around ten times throughout.
Tang did not pledge to prevent officers from using pepper spray, their shields or lights to block frontline journalists’ work, but said the force would increase the manpower of its media liaison team and facilitate better communication with the press.
The commissioner also reportedly said he saw “merits” of having an identification system to differentiate reporters from non-reporters, though he distanced himself from supporting an accredited press card system, saying he “[did] not have any preconceived ideas at this stage.”
Yeung said he would like to see whether Tang’s words translate into an improvement in police-reporter interactions on the frontline: “I won’t make a judgement on whether he’s sincere or not. An apology is an apology that still he did it, that’s still positive in a sense.”
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) of Hong Kong has opposed proposals to establish a licensing or accreditation system for media. In a statement on Friday, it said it would follow up with local press groups to better understand the nature of Thursday’s meeting.
The FCC added it had asked to be included in Thursday’s meeting with Tang but the force said it preferred to meet the club separately to address the issues faced by foreign reporters.
Yeung said more meetings between police and media representatives were being planned.