The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has published a statement criticising the Highways Department for burying news of delays to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB) in a late-night press release.
On November 25, the Highways Department issued a press release responding to media enquiries on the latest progress of the HZMB project at 10:59pm.
The press release said that the HZMB project would be completed by the end of 2017, as opposed ad not the end of 2016 as originally planned. Reasons for the delay included “the unstable supply of materials shortage of labour, restriction in airport height, constraints in environmental protection requirement and slower than expected consolidation performance of reclamation works.”
Under Secretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu later explained that the announcement was made then because the Department noticed speculation regarding the project’s progress, and therefore felt the need for immediate clarification.
According to the HKJA, the only acceptable reason for any public authorities to issue late-night announcements is if it is an emergency which would cause public inconvenience if not immediately announced. Since the delay mentioned in the press release was not such an emergency, and issuing the statment close to midnight was unnecessary, the Association said.
The HKJA statement listed four reasons why the Highways Department’s decision run against principles of fair administration and accessibility in public governance:
- The delay is of significant public interest and concern;
- A lack of adequate justification for the Highways Department to announce in late-night;
- Announcing in late-night did not give enough time for media, especially print media, to handle the news;
- Half of newspapers in Hong Kong were unable to report the delay, thereby seriously affecting the public’s right to know.
The Association also cited other instances when government bureaux made announcements of public interest late at night.
These included Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po’s statement acknowledging that he knew flats owned by his company had been sub-divided for rental. Chan’s statement was released at 11:59pm on August 5, 2012.