Commissioner Lo Wai Chung, Stephen
Commissioner of Police
Monday, 12 August 2019
An open letter to Hong Kong Commissioner of Police, Stephen Lo Wai-chung
Dear Commissioner Lo,
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is greatly concerned about the deterioration in relations between the police and media since the onset of the anti-extradition bill protests in June. We are particularly concerned at the escalation of violence at numerous locations across the city over the weekend of August 10 and 11, 2019.
We appreciate the efforts of the police to improve transparency by holding regular press conferences. However, we feel the most pressing issues concern the actions of some frontline officers and their interaction with the media whilst covering protests. Journalists should not interfere with police work and neither should the police deliberately hinder nor prevent journalists from doing their job. With this in mind, we offer the following concrete suggestions for your consideration.
1. Police officers should refrain from shining lights directly at news photographers and camera operators.
2. Officers should assume that those at a protest who are wearing jackets and helmets clearly marked “Press”, “記者” etc. are actually journalists and not imposters. The Hong Kong government does not issue an official press card. As such journalists can only produce cards issued by their employer or affiliated organisation.
3. Police should exercise much greater restraint in the use of tear gas. The victims of excessive tear gas deployment in residential areas include residents, bystanders and journalists covering the demonstrations as well as the protesters themselves. The firing of tear gas rounds inside Kwai Fong MTR Station on Sunday, August 11, 2019, was particularly egregious and posed a serious health risk.
4. Police officers should, whenever possible, ensure that their ID is visible and present their warrant card on request if needed. We are aware that many officers are concerned at possible doxing attacks, the publishing of personal contact details, but we would remind them that they are public servants who should be held accountable for their actions.
5. Liaison officers should be embedded in every tactical unit deployed at each protest site. It is important, moreover, that they have the authority to brief the media on tactical operations and to exercise some measure of control over those operations.
6. Liaison officers should give journalists advance warning of any police action that might endanger those covering the event so that they can move to a safer location.
7. If journalists are injured, police should ensure that they are provided with swift and unhindered medical attention.
8. Police officers should respond promptly to any incident in which members of the public and journalists come under attack from organised gangs, and ensure the perpetrators are arrested.
9. If journalists have a legitimate complaint against particular officers, the liaison officer should ensure those complaints are investigated in an efficient and transparent manner.
10. If police officers are found to be negligent in their duty, they should be disciplined, and the results of the investigation made public so that the complainant can be satisfied the case was handled properly.
11. We acknowledge that everyone is working under extremely stressful conditions, but it is important that frontline police officers remain calm and not overreact to provocation from protesters. When talking to the press, they should make requests in a clear, concise manner and not use insulting and obscene language or make threatening gestures.
We welcome any comments you might have on these suggestions, as well as any thoughts you have on the actions that journalists can take to improve relations with the police. We also encourage you to reach out to other press organisations, such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association, and engage in a meaningful dialogue with them.
We extend once again our open invitation to you and your colleagues to discuss these issues at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club either in a public or a more private setting.
This letter will be made public in the hope that a wider cross-section of media professionals and other stakeholders can engage in this important discussion and offer their own insights.
President, on behalf of the Board of Governors and Press Freedom Committee of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong.