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The Journalist: Government Briefs Out the Press Conference

The latest issue of The Journalist is released. The cover story looks into the growing problem “off-the-record briefings”. According to a study by The Journalist, the Hong Kong Government held 12 background briefings between March and May. The bureaus which had the most “off-the-record briefings” were the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Development Bureau, the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Civil Service Bureau. Each was responsible for two such “briefings”.

The Journalist believes that the actual number of ‘off-the-record briefings’ was much higher than 12. We believe that a number of briefings were exclusively for selected media and, therefore, could not be told to us or identified for us. A quick search of WiseNews found that an average of 29.8 articles quoted a “source” every day. This shows the gravity of the situation.
Most of the issues touched on during such briefings were controversial ones of enormous public concern. We are concerned that government is using this so-called “background briefing” or off-record briefing in place of press conferences to announce major government policies while leaving trivial matters for press conference. This directly challenges the public’s right to know.
The Journalist also identifies the official who has most blatantly abused the background briefing. There are also comments from academics on this issue. The general public is welcome to read these and more from the HKJA website at:
The Chairperson of the HKJA Mak Yin-ting points out that it is common practice for a responsible government to release information in an open manner. If further information is needed for analysis in complicated, important or sensitive matters, non-attributable sources may be resorted to. She also pointed out that the media should avoid non-attributable sources, otherwise the media would be opening the floodgates to quoting unnamed sources to release information or issue comments in an irresponsible manner.
The Journalist in the issue also investigates starting salaries for fresh reporters in different media outlets. According to our study, the pay level of fresh reporters has either been frozen or slashed. The result is an extremely high turnover of reporters in the industry and media outlets have to train fresh reporters continuously. When experience within the news industry cannot be accumulated, the quality of news reporting can only be adversely affected.
The JA urges media owners to look at this problem seriously. Journalists should have decent salary which can match their role as the Fourth Estate of society. 
18/07/2010 01:03   updated more
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