Hong Kong press club demands assurance of press freedom under national security law as police hit out at media

©Hong Kong Free Press

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) issued an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday demanding the government give assurances of press freedom and protection of journalists from legal risks under the newly-enforced national security law.

The FCC urged the government to guarantee all journalists that they would be allowed to report on any topic and would not be obstructed or intimidated by the authorities and police during their reporting. The letter came after the government failed to address the concerns of the press club in light of the new national law, with broadly defined offences against secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam (centre) with Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng (left) and Secretary for Security John Lee (right). Photo: GovHK.

The club also asked Lam’s administration to pledge that journalists would not face legal danger for criticising the government, quoting government critics or sharing their posts on social media. Journalists’ work, statements and activities conducted outside of China and Hong Kong should not put them at risk as well, the letter read.

“Issuing and renewal of visas to foreign correspondents will not be used to control or restrict coverage of Hong Kong, nor as a punishment… The government will not introduce a registration system for journalists or a special journalist visa,” the FCC wrote.

It added journalists should not be obliged to turn over their notes, or give the authorities access to their digital devices or reveal information about their sources.

Meanwhile, French NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on democracies to take “immediate action” to prevent Beijing from “stifling” Hong Kong’s press freedom. The watchdog accused China as pursuing to establish a “new world media order” under the newly-enforced national security law.

“This grotesque regulation, that is widely open to interpretation, not only gives the Beijing regime a tool to harass and punish journalists in Hong Kong under appearances of legality, but it also allows China to intimidate and threaten news commentators abroad with incarceration,” said Cédric Alviani, RSF East Asia bureau head.

Police criticise media

On Thursday, police wrote to four local journalists’ associations to reflect what they saw as unprofessional behaviour of the press during the July 1 protest coverage. The force said they found a woman who wore a yellow reflective press vest, but she was not a reporter. She was later arrested for allegedly participating in an unlawful assembly.

Police also criticised an online media article over its reporting on an incident where an officer was stabbed during the demonstration on Wednesday. They accused the report of “beautifying” the assault on an officer and slammed it as “beneath contempt.”

They also expressed regret over media representatives who took close-up shots of some leaflets that contained personal information of officers.

File photo: United Social Press.

“Filming from a close range and live streaming police officers’ information is extremely unprofessional, and could violate the injunction,” police claimed on Facebook.

Last October, the High Court granted an injunction order to restrict the usage, publication and disclosing of personal data of police and their family members to restrain doxxing and harassment. Police previously came under fire before for displaying journalists’ identity cards during protest live streams.

HKFP freelancer searched

Also on Wednesday, HKFP freelance photographer May James was stopped and searched by police whilst working at the protest site.

She declined an officer’s demand to reveal her salary after they claimed she was suspected of carrying an item that could cause harm. She was later released after being made to remove her mask, show ID and state her name into a police camera.