The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has penned an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam saying that she failed to honour an promise to grant digital media outlets access to government events.
The watchdog sent the letter on Tuesday after outlets such as HKFP were blocked from attending Lam’s first press gathering as chief executive on July 3, as well as her June 21 press conference introducing her cabinet.
Following the June 21 press conference, the watchdog criticised Lam over the same issue.
Current government policy prevents reporters whose outlets do not have a print edition from receiving government press releases or attending government press events. Lam allowed digital media outlets to cover her events during her campaign earlier this year.
The Ombudsman ruled last year that the government should end the ban, which it called an “unfair policy,” while the HKJA applied for a judicial review in March to challenge it.
During her campaign, Lam signed a press freedom charter prior to attending an HKJA-organised debate between the candidates. Signatories of the charter pledged to grant digital media outlets equal reporting rights at government press functions, when compared to their printed counterparts.
On Tuesday, the HKJA wrote that it was disappointed in Lam’s failure to keep the promise.
“Online journalists have been invited to attend all of your press events during the election campaign,” wrote the association. “By doing so, you have proved the so-called space and security concern raised by the Government in defending their ban is [a] mere excuse.”
“To keep the unreasonable and unjust policy towards online media after you took office unchanged is unacceptable.”
The government told HKFP last December that their policy was under “review,” though would not state how long the process may take.
Dear Mrs Lam,
We are writing to express our disappointment in your failure to honour your promise to stop the government’s discriminatory policy against online-only media.
Journalists working in those media have been barred from attending at least two of your important press events, namely your first press gathering in your official capacity as the Chief Executive on July 3 and your press conference to introduce your team of principal officials on June 21.
The ban has contravened the press freedom charter that you have signed at an election campaign forum hosted by us. In the charter, you pledged to grant online-only media equal rights and access to government press functions.
Those arrangements have run against an earlier judgement by the Ombudsman Office that found the present ban unreasonable. The Ombudsman has called for flexibility in the accreditation of online journalists before a policy review is completed.
We appreciated that you and your campaign team have engaged online media in your campaign. Online journalists have been invited to attend all of your press events during the election campaign. By doing so, you have proved the so-called space and security concern raised by the Government in defending their ban is mere excuse. To keep the unreasonable and unjust policy towards online media after you took office unchanged is unacceptable.
We urge you to accept the Ombudsman’s recommendations in particular its call for flexibility. Before the completion of policy review, online-only journalists should be granted access to government press functions on the production of membership cards from the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association.
We look forward to your prompt response and are happy to discuss with you on the matter.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
4 July 2017