A delegation from the FCC board led by club president Jodi Schneider met representatives of the police public relations branch at police headquarters on June 2 to discuss the situation for reporters on the ground in the light of new police tactics.
To facilitate the discussion we agreed it was off the record though with the understanding we would be issuing a report giving the general areas of discussion.
This was a follow-up to our initial October 10 meeting, and comes after a recent series of incidents in which journalists were once again the target of unprovoked attacks by police wielding pepper spray and tear gas.
In some instances, journalists were prevented from reporting on demonstrations by new control techniques, like the use of orange tape to cordon off scenes of police action. Some officers deliberately obstructed photographers by putting their hands in front of cameras.
Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung had held a meeting on May 21 with four local journalist associations during which he offered a personal apology for the way the reporters were treated during demonstrations on May 10, Mother’s Day.
The FCC had asked to attend that discussion, but the police preferred a separate meeting given the particular concerns of the international media in Hong Kong and that the May 21 meeting was conducted in Cantonese.
The discussion was open and candid, lasting more than an hour-and-a-half, as the police side listened to our concerns about the need for unobstructed access to see and record freely when arrests are being made and when police dispersal operations are underway.
We insisted that journalists identified by yellow vests, and who were not obstructing or interfering with ongoing police operations, should be considered working reporters and respected as such, even in situations where some non-journalists and other observers might be mingling with or behind the press corps.
The police representatives acknowledged the FCC board members’ explanation of the new media ecosystem, which includes numerous new online media outlets and a large number of freelance journalists and unaffiliated journalists who deserve the same rights to cover events free of interference and harassment as those working for large or well-known organisations.
We reminded them that press freedom is a right guaranteed under Hong Kong law, which the representatives acknowledged.
For their side, the police representatives acknowledged that transparency through unhindered media coverage also serves the interests of frontline police offers on the streets.
To help improve working relations on the ground, they said they were adding additional “blue vest” media liaison officers.
The two sides agreed to continue the dialogue and to explore ways that might help the Hong Kong police force and its frontline officers better understand the role and needs of journalists covering demonstrations.
The FCC welcomes this ongoing discussion as a way to protect the rights of journalists, and we will keep our members informed of any additional contacts or next steps.
Post Date: June 5, 2020