The business environment for traditional media has become harsher. In the past year a number of media organisations have laid off staff or reduced manpower. At the same time online news media are facing a lot of difficulties in securing access to government press events due to obstructions from Information Services Department (ISD). In face of these challenges one of the major tasks for HKJA in the past year was to strive for the rights of online news media to access government press events and facilities. Another major task was to provide trainings and financial assistances to assist members enhance work related skills and face up to the economic challenges.
Reporting rights of online news media
Online media are developing rapidly. The HKSAR Government, however, has imposed a blanket ban on digital-only news media from government news events and facilities. As early as 2012, HKJA had asked ISD to allow online media assess to government’s press conferences. In the past five years, HKJA had discussed the issues with three different ISD directors, sent at least five letters to Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah and sought help from Legislative Councillors.
In June last year, HKJA filed a complaint with the Ombudsman over the government’s policy to deny digital-only media access to its government press events. In December the same year, the Ombudsman ruled that the complaint had been substantiated. It called on the Government to review soonest its practices and, before completion of its review, be more flexible in dealing with requests from individual online media organizations. However, the government remained adamant over its ban and denied all digital-only media access to government press events or on-the-spot reporting. Online journalists were also not allowed access to government press activities and facilities at the Chief Executive Election.
On 23rd March, HKJA filed an application for judicial review against the government’s ban, and also requested the Court to grant an interim relief to allow all digital-only journalists holding HKJA membership cards access to press facilities at the Chief Executive election on 26th March.
On 24th March, the High Court granted HKJA leave to challenge the government’s ban. However, the court rejected HKJA’s application for the interim order. On the Chief Executive
election day, the digital-only journalists were denied entry to the central counting station and could only report in the public area. In April, HKJA again raised the issue of digital-only media ban to Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam.
For more work related to press freedom and freedom of speech, please refer to Table 1.
Last year was a year of elections for Hong Kong. HKJA had organized a number of election forums for members, including the Legco Election forum, the Chief Executive Election Forum and the meeting with the Chief Executive-elect.
As HKJA is a voter of Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication Functional Constituency, HKJAorganized a forum in August last year and invited Ma Fung-kwok and Chow Pok-yin, the two candidates in this constituency, to meet with members and answer their questions. HKJA conducted an opinion poll for all members after the forum, and followed the poll results and gave our vote to Chow Pok-yin at the Legco election.
Before the Hong Kong Election Committee subsector elections in Dec 2016, Chai Hua, founder of the Initium, sought a vote from HKJA. HKJA organized a forum in December for members to meet and discuss with Chai on his platform. After the meeting, HKJA followed our practice at Legco Election and conducted a members’ opinion poll. Based on poll result, HKJA voted for Chai Hua at the Election Committee election.
In March this year, HKJA organized a Chief Executive Election Forum and invited the three candidates – John Tsang, Carrie Lam and Woo Kwok-hing, to attend the forum. In the forum, they signed the “Pledge to uphold press freedom”. In signing the pledge, they promised to do their best to uphold press freedom once elected; to introduce an access to information law and an archive law within his or her term of service; not to introduce Basic Law Article 23 legislation in Hong Kong before the public reaches a consensus and to lift the ban on online media for access to government press events and facilities.
Assaults on Journalists
The cases of physical assaults on journalists were sporadic and isolated in the past year, when compared to the tense situations during the Occupying Central movement in 2014 and the social conflicts one year after that movement.
In June last year, a large number of Hong Kong journalists went to Wukan village in Shanwei City of Guangdong Province to cover the news of the village chief Lin Zuluan being arrested by the authorities. The press office of the Shanwei city government accused Hong Kong journalists of engaging in ‘instigation, plotting and directing’ of events. Some journalists were detained and beaten by mainland police.
In January 2017 when journalists were covering the news of Legislator Nathan Law returning from Taiwan at the Hong Kong International Airport, a few journalists were surrounded and assaulted by a group of protesters at the airport.
HKJA expressed indignation over the two incidents and strongly condemned the violence against journalists.
Going into Campus
In view of the difficult political environment, HKJA realized the importance of promoting the ideas of press freedom among the young generation. During 2016-17, we actively went into campuses and gave talks at 31 secondary schools. In the year ahead, we hope to invite more frontline journalists to act as voluntary speakers and hold talks in more secondary schools. Through this, we hope to cultivate a more positive image of journalists and their work in the minds of our younger generations, and to let them understand the negative impact on freedom of expression and freedom of thought if press freedom was suppressed.
As a trade union of journalistic workers, HKJA has always been aware of the importance of providing training to members and equipping them with updated skills to deal with the ever-changing environment of the media industry. A total of nine workshops and seminars were held for this purpose in 2016-17. For more details, please refer to Table 2.
To help journalists acquire new skills in face of work transformation, HKJA organized two different film workshops last year: one on using mobile phones to take and edit videos for instant news reporting, another was an introductory course on film shooting and editing skills.
HKJA last year launched the “HKJA Journalism Fellowships” that aimed to provide financial assistance to member journalists to participate in recognized regional or internationals conferences or seminars so as to support their career and professional advancement. Initial annual sum for the whole scheme was HK$50,000. No application, however, has been received yet. More promotion about this scheme should be made next year.
The ExCom has also decided to set aside 20 per cent of income after deduction of costs from the Gala Dinner for a “Journalists Training and Support Fund”. The Fund would pay for HKJA’s member unemployment allowances and journalist training expenses. It is hoped this fund could help members face the increasingly challenging media environment.
As for the 3rd Mentorship Programme, a total of ten members have enrolled, the response was not as enthusiastic as that of last two programmes. As this mentorship programmes had been organised for three years, the ExCom would review if HKJA should continue to organize the 4th Mentorship programme.
There has been steady growth in membership over the past year. The latest membership count is 643. HKJA had 275 new members this year.
On the other hand, 179 members failed to renew their membership because they did not pay membership renewal fees on schedule, thus their membership was automatically cancelled. Please refer to table 3 for details.
Our most popular sports event – the JA Cup celebrated its 32th anniversary. With the help of Jockey Club Kitchee Centre in arranging venues for us, HKJA managed to complete all games smoothly and let journalists who are football fans enjoy the cheerful moments on the football fields.
Incumbent Chairperson Sham Yee-lan and Vice Chairperson Shirley Yam will hand over their positions. The ExCom would like to express sincere gratitude to their hard work and dedication over the years. ExCom members Chan Pik-ki, Edward Li, Luther Ng and Patsy Moy did not seek re-election in the coming year. The ExCom would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their contributions. We wish everyone every success in the future!
The 2016-2017 Executive Committee
Hong Kong Journalists Association
17 June 2017