The Hong Kong government has spent around HK$1 million taxpayer money this year on sponsoring journalists from mainland China and overseas to cover major events in the city, including the recent Belt and Road Summit.
The Information Services Department (ISD) paid for 15 journalists from mainland China, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Poland and Hungary to cover the summit held on September 13 and 14, a government document supplied to the legislature showed.
Among them were reporters and editors, two thirds of them from mainland China.
The sponsored visits were part of a government-run programme to invite journalists from mainland China and overseas to visit the city and report on major events or activities. Foreign and mainland Chinese journalists were encouraged to “see for themselves the latest development in the city,” the ISD said last week in response to HKFP’s enquiries.
Full list of journalists sponsored by the Hong Kong government to cover the 8th Belt and Road Summit
|South Korea||Son Ilsun||Maeil Business Newspaper||Beijing Bureau Chief|
|Thailand||Thongchai Cholsiripong||Today Bizview||Editor|
|Indonesia||Roni Yunianto||Bisnis Indonesia||Senior journalist|
|Poland||Karolina Wójcicka||Dziennik Gazeta Prawna||Reporter|
|China||Wang Yanan||Hebnews.cn||Deputy editor-in-chief|
|China||Zhao Naizheng||Jilin Daily||Senior reporter|
|China||Liu Liang||Economic Daily||Deputy assignment editor|
|China||Zhou Zhiheng||Hunan Daily||Reporter|
|China||Cao Lijuan||Dongguan Daily||Reporter|
|China||Guo Beichen||Henan Daily||Reporter|
|China||Lan Nan||Sichuan Daily||Reporter|
|China||Fu Bidong||Kunming Daily||Director of the economic news centre|
|China||Zhou Chengyi||Jiefang Daily||Reporter|
The department’s Overseas Public Relations Sub-division told HKFP last week that the programme has been running for years, but it had been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The journalists sponsored journalists mainly came from countries, regions or cities covered by the Hong Kong government’s offices overseas and in mainland China, the ISD said. The composition of the journalists in sponsored trips also varied based on the theme and nature of each trip, it added.
“ISD started inviting journalists to visit Hong Kong again this year as cross-boundary and global travel resumed normal,” the department said an emailed reply.
Asked how much the sponsored visits cost, the ISD said about HK$1 million has been spent on the programme so far in the financial year of 2023/24.
Sponsored journalist visits were usually tied to major events in the city, such as InnoEX and Digital Economy Summit, the Belt and Road Summit, and the Asian Financial Forum, ISD said. The department would arrange briefings, interviews and visits for the journalists during their stay in the city, it said.
“Depending on the nature and theme of the events, the ISD will invite appropriate media outlets and journalists to cover them,” the department said, without elaborating on how or why the 15 journalist journalists were selected to be sponsored.
According to figures supplied by the ISD, the government spent around HK$2.3 million on sponsoring journalist visits in 2017/18, while the spending fell to around HK$2 million in 2018/19. It dropped further in 2019/20, when around HK$1.4 million taxpayer was used on financing such visits.
According to the ISD’s financial estimates submitted in February, the department assisted three visiting journalists and film crews in 2020 and four the following year, before the number rose to 41 in 2022. The low figures were due to travel restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which essentially barred non residents from coming to the city, ISD said.
The department estimated at the time that it would assist 100 journalists and film crews in 2023.
Offering assistance to visiting journalists and film crews was listed as one of the indicators for evaluating the ISD’s performance in respect of its publicity work outside Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government spent HK$191.1 million in 2022-2023 on public relations outside Hong Kong, which aimed to promote a “favourable image of Hong Kong” internationally and in mainland China. It earmarked HK$182.4 million for the 2023-2024 financial year.
At the summit held earlier this month, government officials from more than 10 countries, business leaders, and more than 35 state-owned enterprises were among the nearly 6,000 people who joined the event. It was the first Belt and Road Summit held since Hong Kong dropped its Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year.
Chief Executive John Lee said at the opening ceremony that this year’s event also commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, one of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policies that has seen Beijing invest in infrastructure in more than 100 countries, many of them in the Global South.
Supporters of the strategy say it will help boost trade and raise gross domestic product in participating nations. Critics, however, have called it a Trojan horse designed to increase China’s influence.
“This year’s summit is, I’m pleased to note, the first in-person, face-to-face edition since we moved on from Covid. We are opened up, once again, to doing what we do best: creating a world of opportunity,” Lee said in a speech delivered in English at the summit.
Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit.