Hong Kong’s journalism watchdog has penned an open letter to the government, expressing concern that the personal details of reporters covering official events at the 20th anniversary of the city’s transfer of sovereignty may be shared with the police.
Consenting to sharing details with law enforcement agencies is a new requirement from the Information Services Department (ISD), said the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).
Details of journalists that could potentially shared with all law enforcement agencies include phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, and photographs.
The new requirements have surfaced amid rumours that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong during the Handover anniversary on July 1. But Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah remained tight-lipped when asked in the legislature on Wednesday whether the rumours were true.
‘Verification and accreditation purposes’
The registration form sent by the ISD to Hong Kong media outlets asks that journalists consent to the sharing of their personal details with the Home Affairs Bureau’s Celebrations Coordination Office, which is responsible for Handover events.
“I also understand that the Celebrations Coordination Office may refer such information to law enforcement agencies and other relevant department/agencies of the HKSAR Government as necessary for identity verification and accreditation purposes,” it read.
However, in an open letter to the ISD on Wednesday, the HKJA said that the referral of details to law enforcement is at odds with past government press accreditation practice.
During the One Belt One Road forum attended by China’s number three official Zhang Dejiang, journalists were required to submit personal data to the ISD and present their identity cards for entrance into venues. “There was no suggestion of police involvement in this process,” said the HKJA.
“There is no justification in changing the accreditation practice that has served every party well over the years,” added the watchdog.
“The personal data provided should be sufficient in identity verification while the meticulous security check and bag search at the door step of the venue would keep the event free from any hazard.”
Digital media ban
The HKJA’s letter also asked the government to change its policy banning digital media outlets – such as HKFP – from all official events and press conferences.
“None of [the digital outlets] have received any invitation to register for the event so far.”
Hong Kong’s High Court is currently processing the HKJA’s judicial review in March to challenge the constitutionality of the government’s digital media access ban. A hearing will be conducted at a later date.
Last year, the Ombudsman also called upon the government to review its practice and draw up guidelines as soon as possible.
HKFP has contacted the ISD and the Celebrations Coordination Office for comment.