A local online media organisation alliance has urged the Hong Kong police to amend new guidelines that only recognise the credentials of journalists registered with the government or part of “internationally-recognised” outlets.

The press conference panel on Sunday included nine representatives from local online media groups, including Rice Post, FreeHK Media, WhatsNews, NineTeen Media, and Students Media HK. Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo was also present.

The panel. The banner behind the members read: Protect Press Freedom. Safeguard Reporter’s Roles!” Photo: Screenshot via StandNews.

The journalist-turned-lawmaker said the new guidelines curtailed an essential human right: “The right to report is associated basically with the people’s right to know… What the police in Hong Kong is trying to do is to censor out our news websites… It is unacceptable.”

She added Hong Kong was a free economy and the new guidelines created an environment of unfair competition: “We would demand [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam and her administration… to have a proper rethink over this issue.”

She also said it was unfair not to recognise online journalists because of their lack of professional training: “Journalism, as far as I’m concerned, is unteachable. You learn on the job… Most of our online journalists are reporting on the spot, live… So there’s no ‘fake news reporting’ or any ethics involved as such.”

Police Public Relations Branch Chief Superintendent Kenneth Kwok said the new guidelines, announced last Tuesday, will “help frontline reporters and officers carry out their respective duties more smoothly.”

Defending press freedom

Barry Evening Post reporter Bruce Lam said at the press conference that neither the government nor the police had the right, under the Basic Law or UN guidelines, to choose organisations to recognise as official media.

Bruce Lam from Barry Evening Post. Photo: Screenshot via StandNews.

“The media does two things: to report on the truth and to hold the government accountable,” he said. “Now, the government is choosing who will hold them accountable.”

He said police attempts to prevent online journalists from filming live constituted a curtailment of press freedom: “Even if they’re not ‘official media’, they are not breaking the law. Why are you arresting them?”.

Lam added that key moments of last year’s pro-democracy protests, including the police storming of Prince Edward MTR station and the shooting of a protester with live ammunition in Sai Wan Ho, were captured by local online media.

Mutual support

Asked whether the panel members would try protective measures at the planned unauthorised National Day march on Thursday, Lam said collective fear showed that police had created a hostile environment which made it difficult for reporters to properly do their jobs.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

“As reporters, we should not have to be in a position where we have to wonder how we should present ourselves in order to be safe from the police, whether we should display our press badges and wear our press vests or pretend to be a citizen.”

The spokesperson for EggEggClub News added he had experienced police officers calling out his full name while he was filming or live streaming on the field.

Lam, speaking on behalf of the panel, said its members were committed to carrying on with their reporting duties: “Defend press freedom, Safeguard reporter’s roles.”

Photo: Inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0.

He added that media organisations, large or small, traditional or online, should support each other: “This is a road we are all on together.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressed support for the new guidelines via a Facebook post last Friday. It marked an apparent U-turn from last year when she said the government had “no plans” to enforce an official registration system for journalists.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.