How can the Commerce Secretary justify gifting Disneyland HK$5.8 billion of taxpayers’ money? Why is the Chief Secretary telling officials not to answer lawmakers’ questions? Is the Chief Executive attempting to reverse the results of the legislative election?
These are some of the questions we would like to put to Hong Kong’s top officials on behalf of the public. Our journalists would also like to witness Sunday’s Chief Executive Committee election and give proper coverage to the upcoming Chief Executive elections, district by-elections and handover anniversary events.
However, as we do not print on paper, the Hong Kong government continues to bar digital media outlets from attending government events, press conferences and accessing press releases, stating that it is “not in a position to distinguish” between online outlets. Such a practice has resulted in an unreasonable restriction on information distribution channels and is in opposition to the principle of a free press.
On Tuesday, the Ombudsman – an independent investigatory body which holds the authorities to account – ruled that the government’s long-standing policies were “vague” and “unfair.” It agreed with the Hong Kong Journalists Association that the industry is changing and digital outlets are outpacing traditional media sources. It also said that the industry and the public are given “no clue” about the government’s criteria for approving access.
Obstruction to press freedom
Between us, we have published thousands of news items concerning the government and some of our reporters hold Hong Kong Journalists Association press passes. For the legislature, the police and other public bodies, this is proof enough of our status. We are all registered entities, with physical offices and qualified, paid, full-time staff dedicated to one simple task: ensuring the city has an informed electorate.
The government can no longer pretend the internet does not exist. Other countries have understood that voters nowadays access their news online and have thus recognised digital media reporters. With the rise of social media and a lack of diversity among traditional media, it is not only archaic, but damaging to civic discourse when readers cannot be properly informed and the authorities hinder the media from holding them to account. It is also impedes us commercially when legacy media titles are granted access whilst newer, online outlets are banned.
Review the ban
In April, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that “freedom of the press is essential to maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness and free society.” A month later, the legislature further relaxed access for digital outlets. As Hong Kong continues to plunge in global press freedom indices, we urge the government to:
- Heed the Ombudsman’s recommendations ahead of Sunday’s election and review its digital media ban.
- Roll out a transparent accreditation process so that online media outlets may access press events for on-the-spot reporting.
- Review, relax and publish its eligibility criteria for obtaining government press releases to allow digital outlets equal access.