The Hong Kong Police Force has deployed live “presenters” during their Facebook live-streams at protest sites after tightening media recognition rules last week.
Thousands of police officers were deployed in anticipation of city-wide demonstrations on Thursday – China National Day. Some riot police officers were spotted with GoPro action cameras, whilst Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) officers live-streamed their operations as protesters gathered.
Commentators holding microphones with a “PPRB Live” label were stationed in Causeway Bay, at Wan Chai’s MTR station, around the Hung Hom Cross-Harbour Tunnel and in Tsuen Wan.
A commentator at Wan Chai station explained the purpose of stop-and-search actions as a preventive measure, adding that officers had found offensive weapons in the bags of passersby ahead of protests.
Another commentator in Tsuen Wan warned the public not to visit areas that are considered protest flash points during Covid-19 pandemic.
The move came after the Police General Orders amendments were altered to update the definition of media representatives. As of last week, only outlets registered under the Government News and Media Information System will be allowed access to police operations and press conferences, alongside internationally reputable media organisations.
PPRB Chief Superintendent Kenneth Kwok said earlier that the policy change was to facilitate efficiency and aid frontline officers, whilst critics slammed the change as a de facto accreditation system.
During previous operations at protest sites, PPRB officers asked for journalists’ ID and press cards, whilst those not recognised by officers were barred from nearing the frontlines.
The force also invited “fans” on Facebook to follow their updates during the day: “In the interest of personal safety, members of the public are encouraged to stay tuned to the latest announcements on the Police’s social media and to avoid staying in areas where unlawful activities may break out,” the Facebook post read.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association sent three observers to protest areas on Thursday to monitor police interactions with reporters.
In response to the new PPRB “presenters,” the association’s chief Chris Yeung told HKFP that police had hindered the work of the press: “It could not be more ironic that the police are doing the job of reporters by giving live coverage of their own operation while blocking genuine reporters from getting nearer to do their job,” he said.
“It is not unlawful for the police to take footage of their operations, the same as reporters do. But they should not give special privileges to their own colleagues at the scene. It is even worse for the police officers to make comments in their live coverage, which could be biased, thus misleading the public, or even worse, giving false information to the public,” he added.