Daily in-person press briefings given by government departments on the Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong will be replaced by an online video conference starting Monday. Members of the press will have to submit questions in writing, authorities have announced.

Hong Kong Journalism Association (HKJA) chairperson Chris Yeung said during a Commercial Radio interview on Monday morning that the new arrangement was “hardly acceptable.” He questioned whether officials could consider whether to respond to questions depending on the subject asked, if they are to be submitted as text message. He also compared the new arrangement to government press conferences in the mainland, where questions are submitted in advance.

Sophia Chan (second from left) and Chuang Shuk-kwan (second from right) at a press conference on July 9, 2020. File Photo: GovHK.

The measure is to implement social distancing and minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19, the government announced in a statement on Sunday.

The Department of Health said it has considered hosting press conferences online since the start of the pandemic, RTHK reported, and has only now tackled issues with technical arrangements and equipment.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairperson Chris Yeung. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Yeung questioned why other government departments had not done the same, and why it was a year into the pandemic before the government acted if the decision was only out of consideration for infection control.

Eight press unions issued a joint statement via HKJA’s Facebook page protesting the government’s decision: “Even at the pandemic’s worst period with over 100 confirmed cases, [the government] maintained in-person briefings where the press could ask questions on the spot. No reporter has been infected at press conferences,” the joint statement read.

“We are worried if the government moves all its press conferences online, people will not be able to know what questions were asked, and the government could select questions from reporters. […] This seriously hampers the public’s right to know and is a big step back from press freedom.”

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.