Hong Kong Legco Trampling on Press Freedom
On June 20, a journalist of Local Press was denied access to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and removed by security guards there by force. Local Press extremely regrets this act on the part of Legco. As it failed to provide any reasonable excuse, this incident has already done a serious damage to press freedom of Hong Kong.
At eleven o’clock on the morning of June 20, Dr. Chapman Chen, managing editor cum reporter of Local Press, arrived at the Legislative Council and applied for an admission pass by showing his press card. The security guards there disallowed him to do any reporting within the Legco, claiming that as a legislative councilor (the number and name(s) were not specified) had complained that Local Press “was not a mass media”, it was blacklisted by the Legco. The reporter concerned demanded to meet the maker of this decision but was refused. Soon, a security manager surnamed Wu ordered security guards to remove the reporter by force.
Following that, Local Press emailed a letter of complaint to Public Information Division, Legislative Council Secretariat, pointing out that Local Press was set up in early June this year as a small-scale internet news media and registered with the Hong Kong Government as a limited company with a business registration certificate. Since its establishment, Local Press has been publishing news reports, arts critiques, etc.on its website, which is updated on a daily basis. Also, on June 8 this year, Dr. Chapman Chen, on behalf of Local Press, attended City Forum as an invited guest speaker. City Forum is a programme of Radio and Television Hong Kong of the Hong Kong Government. Among the staff and freelance reporters of Local Press, four persons have more than ten years’ working experience in the field of mass media. Local Press is a genuine news media, albeit a relatively small-scale one. Moreover, according to Guidelines and Arrangements for Media Representatives in the Legislative Council Complex issued by Public Information Division of Legislative Council Secretariat, online news media representatives may apply for temporary admission passes if they are able to produce staff card of the applicant (with photo) issued by the news organization he/she represents; and website address for online news media applicants with evidence proving that the news portal has covered LegCo news or has interviewed LegCo Members. Local Press has fulfilled these requirements. The reporter of Local Press who went to cover news of the Legco was armed with a valid staff card, and the website of Local Press had published reports on the financial proposal concerning the Northeast New Territories Development Plan. And, on June 13, reporters of Local Press successfully entered the Legco to cover news on another meeting of the Finance Committee.
After sending the Legco the above-mentioned letter of complaint, another reporter from Local Press tried again at 4 pm on the same day to enter the Legco for covering news there. However, she was also denied access by the reception desk of Legco on the ground that Local Press was “not registered”. The reporter protested in vain that Local Press was a registered limited company with a business registration card. The reporter then enquired about the Legislative Council Secretariat’s reply to Local Press’ complaint, but the reception desk only said that the Secretariat would reply to the letter. Nonetheless, up till the submission of this article, Local Press has not received any reply from the Secretariat. In addition, Local Press has already launched a complaint to Hong Kong Journalists Association. The Association said that they had made enquiries with the Secretariat but had received no reply so far.
Meanwhile, around 2 pm on the same day, Dr. Chapman Chen from Local Press sought help from Legislative councilor, Miss Claudia Mo, a former journalist herself. After calling up Legislative Council Secretariat, she said that the Secretariat replied that it had already issued a list to various mass media, naming news media that were allowed access to Legco that day, that as a legislative councilor had accused Local Press of “unprofessionally” covering news at Legco earlier on, Local Press was not on the list. However, the Secretariat failed to disclose which councilor had made such a complaint. The Secretariat also told Miss Mo that in removing reporters of Local Press from the complex of Legco, the security guards had only followed administrative guidelines of Legco. And the Secretariat would supply the Legislative Council Commission with further explanations later on.
Local Press think that individual councillors’ opinion that a certain mass media’s way of covering news is “unprofessional” cannot constitute a valid ground for denying that mass media access to Legco for covering news. This kind of judgment, having not gone through discussion and deliberation of related Legco committees, is arbitrary, and may become individual legislators’ means to persecute certain news media. Consequently, press freedom will be compromised, the public will be deprived of the right to know, and the reputation of Legco will be damaged.If there are legislators who think that a certain mass media’s way of covering news or news reports are unprofessional, they may complain to that mass media or to the Hong Kong Journalists Association or to related Legco committees, instead of exercising their public power to hinder press freedom directly.