Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Election 2017: Journalism watchdog takes Hong Kong gov’t to court over digital media ban

The Hong Kong Journalists Association has asked the High Court to hand down an order to grant digital media outlets access to report on the chief executive election on Sunday.

The request was made on Thursday, just three days before the election takes place. It was submitted to the court along with a judicial review challenge over the government’s treatment of digital media outlets.

high court

Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

If the court agrees to grant the order, journalists from digital media outlets with membership cards of the association will be able to enter the press areas during Sunday’s election. This would include reporters from Hong Kong Free Press, who have been previously barred from all government events and press conferences as the outlet does not produce a print edition.

The hearing for the order and the judicial review case is scheduled for Friday.

Candidates voice support

Currently, Hong Kong digital media outlets are barred from accessing government press releases and press conferences, and are unable to ask questions of officials.

Last week, HKFP, along with 11 other media groups and journalist unions, wrote to the three chief executive candidates asking them to urge the authorities to give digital media outlets full access to government events and facilities during the election day on Sunday.

See also: Let us report on the election: HKFP and 11 other media groups pen open letter to candidates

hkja letter

On the day when the letter was published, leadership candidate and ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing wrote to the Electoral Affairs Commission, asking them to relax access for digital media outlets. His request was rejected on the ground that the ban is under review.

Two other candidates – former chief secretary Carrie Lam and ex-finance chief John Tsang – subsequently spoke up against the media ban. They have not indicated whether they have received a response from the government.

Meanwhile, the government’s Information Services Department (ISD) told HKFP this week that digital media outlets will continue to be banned from events related to Sunday’s election. It said reporters may obtain election information in the public area, even if they cannot enter the media zone.

The decision came despite months of criticism from local and international media watchdogs, and a decision by the Ombudsman in December which ruled that the government should review its policy.

The fight for access

The Journalism Association has been asking the government to review its digital media ban since 2012.

Tsang Tak-sing, then-chief of the Home Affairs Bureau, told the watchdog in 2014 that the ISD would “continue to maintain contact with media organisations and relevant stakeholders to listen to their views.”

A year later, the association’s chair Sham Yee-lan suggested to the government that online journalists accredited by the association be allowed entry to official press events.

The association has since repeatedly raised the suggestion in meetings with government officials, though its effort yielded no results. Last October, Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah refused to meet with leaders of the association.

Sham Yee-lan

Sham Yee-lan. File Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Last December, the Ombudsman urged the government to review the ban on digital media, which it said was “unfair.” Following the government’s decision to uphold its policy, the association asked the Ombudsman last week to intervene in the dispute, on the basis that the ISD did not implement its recommendation to be flexible with media arrangements on the election day.

In response, the ISD said its representatives are willing to attend the mediation meeting, but on the precondition that it will maintain its current position on media access.

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Election 2017: Journalism watchdog takes Hong Kong gov't to court over digital media ban