Hong Kong: Police amend definition of journalist to restrict access

Under a new policy, Hong Kong’s police will cease to recognise press accreditation issued by local media or journalist associations unless they are also registered with the Hong Kong’s Information Services Department. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the move aggressively undermines media freedom and independence in Hong Kong and demands it be revoked immediately.

Photojournalists wearing protective masks attend a police press conference in Hong Kong on October 8, 2019. Credit: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

In a letter sent to media organisations on September 22, the chief superintendent of the public relations branch of the Hong Kong Police, Kenneth Kwok, outlined amendments to the definition of ‘media representatives’. The new policy takes effect from September 23. Police justify the restrictions as a means to control activities and “fake reporters”. They also argue that the new measures provide an “objective” definition of “journalist”.

The policy change represents yet another attack on media independence in Hong Kong and follows of more than a year of police violence amid ongoing pro-democracy protests and the deterioration of freedom of speech and political rights since the imposition by the Beijing authorities of the controversial national security on June 30.  The move has been strongly condemned by media unions which say journalists could be restricted from covering police-controlled events, press briefings and protests. Under the policy, only "internationally recognised and renowned" foreign media will be recognised by police.

Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA) chairman, Chris Yeung, said HKJA was disappointed at the policy change and that police had not consulted media unions in making the determination. Yeung said he did not understand why HKJA press cards were no longer recognised, since the association had not received any related any complaints.

On September 22, the HKJA joined eight Hong Kong media unions in demanding the policy be scrapped. “Today, the police have broken this relationship by planning to make a significant amendment without first discussing and consulting our sector. We demand the police to scrap the relevant amendment, or we will respond by taking any possible and necessary measures,” the joint statement said.

Media workers or journalists in Hong Kong were previously required to be in possession of an identity card issued by individual media outlets, as well as those with membership cards provided by the HKJA or the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association.

The IFJ said: This is another level of state control clearly at odds with press freedom. It also shows the excessive overreach by authorities against journalists and media workers in Hong Kong in a bid to control critical media coverage. The IFJ strongly objects to any move to limit access to journalists and the narrowing of the definition of a journalist as dictated by police which have no capacity to make such a determination without the consultation of journalists.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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