A Message from the Board Re: Treatment of Journalists at Yuen Long
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong has written to the Hong Kong Police Force requesting an explanation about their treatment of journalists during several incidents at Yuen Long on Tuesday, July 21, when members of the press were repeatedly asked for their credentials.
There were several reports, which have been corroborated by footage posted on social media, of journalists wearing yellow vests being asked to produce press credentials when they were covering the first anniversary of the attack at the Yuen Long MTR station.
At least two journalists, wearing yellow vests and holding press badges, received a fixed penalty of 2,000 HKD for taking part in a prohibited group gathering under the ordnance on prevention and control of disease. They said the police had decided they were not journalists.
There were other instances where police “kettled” groups of journalists and checked their press IDs. As there is no official Hong Kong press card, we have asked on what basis the officers decided who was a journalist and who was not.
It appeared that HKJA card holders were accepted, others were asked to show proof that they were being paid, i.e. working as professional journalists, and in other cases it seemed to arbitrarily come down to whether the officer had heard of the journalist’s publication.
Numerous journalists reported having their ID checked multiple times.
The police said they were taking these actions because there are so many “fake reporters” at protest sites, This is an issue that police representatives have raised previously in meetings with FCC delegations.
As we explained at our last meeting with the HKPF, the reality on the ground now is that there are many amateur journalists working in the field. Although they may not be associated with any established media outet, they should be treated with respect and be allowed to operate as long as they are respecting the law.
There are also professional freelance journalists on the ground who may not have a fixed assignment but are working in the hope that they will obtain marketable content, including video and images.
Established media rely on these independent freelancers and also often use unsolicited video and photographs provided by amateur journalists, many of whom may be studying journalism or have recently graduated.
We asked the HKPF to explain:
— Has there been a change of tactics or new orders issued regarding the treatment of journalists on the ground in such situations, particularly when it comes to journalists that officers may consider in their estimation to be “fake”.
— If officers have been asked to check the credentials of people wearing yellow vests to verify if they are genuine journalists, and if so, what criteria are they using? Has HKPF issued a checklist or guidelines for verifying the status of journalists? If so, this would seem to be de facto a new system of press registration based on a set of particular set of criteria that none of us has seen.
We requested that the police clarify the situation and reiterated the FCC’s opposition to the idea of a government-regulated press accreditation for journalists in Hong Kong. Such a system would not be in keeping with Hong Kong’s tradition and culture as a place where press freedom is an entrenched value and the rights of journalists to do their job unimpeded is respected.