Hong Kong leader supports police decision to recognise only gov’t-registered journalists despite pledge last October

©Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has backed a controversial new police decision to recognise journalists only from government-registered news outlets, saying the system is “objective and open” and would not erode press freedom.

In a Facebook post published early Friday, Lam said she had to “get it off her chest,” after reading about the police move and subsequent criticism.

Carrie Lam. File photo: GovHK.

Under the new guidelines announced on Tuesday, police will no longer accept press cards issued by local journalist associations or by local media groups unless they are also registered with the Information Services Department. The force will, however, recognise journalists from “internationally known” media.

While police said the new policy would keep “self-proclaimed journalists” away from protest sites, journalists decried what they saw as government vetting of the press and a “serious erosion” of press freedom.

Police complained of “fake reporters” during widespread pro-democracy protests which convulsed the city last year, while journalists said officers had in some cases obstructed or harassed them.

The new rules mean unregistered journalists can no longer cover police briefings. Opponents of the change also said unregistered reporters covering incidents in public areas may face prosecution for illegal assembly or breaching Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.

Gov’t information system

Lam defended the police use of registration with the Government News and Media Information System (GMNIS), which is overseen by the Information Services Department, as a criterion for defining members of the press. Authorities use the online portal to notify and invite media organisations to cover government events or press conferences. It also contains an archive of government press releases, broadcasts, photos and video clips.

“Today, the police force uses the GMNIS – an objective and open service platform that treats everyone equally – to define who are ‘media representatives’ and provide them with special arrangements during the force’s operations… how would this be suppressing press freedom or selecting reporters?” Lam asked.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

The chief executive said her administration widened access to the GMNIS in September 2017, after some online-only news outlets complained about being barred from attending events organised by the government.

Lam wrote in her post that the Basic Law guarantees Hong Kong citizens freedom of expression and freedom of the press and publication: “This will not change.”

The Information Services Department said on Thursday that its system currently has 206 subscribers, including more than 30 online-only media. The department said subscribers must be organisations that regularly report original news for the public.

A government press conference held on August 21, 2020. Photo: GovHK.

In a 2017 statement, the government said it might suspend or revoke the qualification for news organisations to cover government events in the event of misconduct – such as “foul language” or staging protests – by their representatives.

Last October, Lam said her administration had no intention of requiring official registration for journalists in Hong Kong, saying she acknowledged the media as the “fourth estate” in monitoring the government.