Self-censorship concerns in Hong Kong after bashing of journalist and protesters

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that Hong Kong police beat up a journalist and brutally attacked a pro-democracy protester while breaking up a demonstration. With pressure mounting on media in its coverage of the Occupy protests, the IFJ has expressed reservations on press freedoms with reports that Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air television station, TVB, is suspected of self-censoring its report on the treatment of the protestor.

In the early hours of October 15, hundreds of Hong Kong police used pepper spray and batons to evict democracy protesters from Lung Wo Road, Admiralty. The protestors occupied the road after police cleared them out of other areas in the Admiralty district. The use of force triggered scuffles between police and protesters.

Daniel Cheung, a journalist for Social Record Channel, an online media portal established by Social Record Association in 2010, was kicked and punched by several officers even though he called out that he was a journalist. Police stopped the attack only when they saw his press card. According to AFP, Cheung’s lip was injured and his neck and back bruised. On another occasion, TVB journalists recorded about seven policemen moving a protester to a dark corner and beating him up for four minutes. This report was broadcast several times from 3am. However, by the 7am bulletin and beyond, the voice-over describing the attack was deleted. This drew suspicions of self-censorship from the public and several civil society organizations.

Twenty-eight TVB journalists issued an open letter about the situation and wrote: “Using this version (with the voice-over deleted) means the truth is missing from the report. We would like to reiterate that the script for the voice-over was factual and objective. The description did not involve any personal feeling or position.”

Keith Yuen Chi-Wai, the Head of the TVB news department, told the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) that the case had been investigated by police after a complaint was filed, and the original report was not correct. Six media associations, including the HKJA, the IFJ’s Hong Kong affiliate, issued a joint statement disputing Yuen’s explanation. The statement reminded media, particularly senior management, not to self-censor reports.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “It is deeply regrettable that Hong Kong Police continue to abuse their powers against journalists and protesters. We are also greatly concerned about the alleged TVB self-censorship. We applaud the 28 journalists at TVB for staying true to their professional duties and saying ‘no’ to any kind of unprofessional behaviour.”

The IFJ urges Daniel Cheung and all other journalists who have been assaulted by police to file complaints with the Independent Police Complaints Counci call on the Chairperson of TVB to investigate the changes in the report and explain how this incident occurred. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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