|Ms. Pauline Ng
19th October 2011
Dear Ms. Ng,
I write with grave concern about the ‘Guidelines & Arrangements for Media Representatives in the Legco Council Complex’ issued last month but which I have only just had the opportunity to look at. It is regrettably that the Hong Kong Journalists Association, which is the sole trade union representing over 500 media workers, has not been consulted on such important issue in relation to press freedom.
Rather than a set of guidelines this document is essentially a compendium of restrictions, totally ignoring the media’s role in communicating the Honourable Members’ views to the general public, and the important role that the Fourth Estate plays in upholding one of our widely-acknowledged and cherished core values. The restrictions set out in the guidelines are simply unreasonable.
While you told the media last week that security officers are there to help the media, I can only find in the guidelines that “Media representatives are required to do their reporting inside the press position” which press positions are set up outside the Antechamber and the Dining Hall (see p.7). This provision clearly explains why the security guards had forcefully restricted the media from conducting interviews freely as in the old Legco building.
According to the guidelines, the media cannot conduct interviews with Legco members in the corridors outside conference rooms. Instead, media can only do so in the waiting areas that are totally unclear or unknown to the media as such areas are nowhere specified.
It is the height of the ridiculous to require the media to restrict the substance of their interviews. As Page 7 of the guidelines specifically states: “Media representatives who wish to interview Government officials or other attendants of a meeting can do so at the press position on 1/F or waiting area on 2/F. The interviews should be related to the meetings held.” This is not just the thin end of the wedge in a subtle attempt to control the press. It is an outright move towards totalitarianism. This “guidance” must be removed forthwith as it is at complete variance with our treasured core value of press freedom and freedom of expression, a value that the government has repeatedly said it subscribes to.
In this spirit of freedom the media should have total leeway to ask questions on any subject. By the same token the interviewees, namely, the officials and attendants in this context, have the full freedom to respond or to leave without saying a word. How can Legco deprive the media of its right to ask questions that may well be related to the most vital issue of the day? Only an administration determined to control the press will insist on such a restriction.
The new arrangements for photography and the electronic media are also deviate from press norm. In the new building, television pool feeds of the chamber will be taken and provided by the production team employed by the Secretariat of Legco. Regrettably the recent forceful removal of two members from the chamber was not provided to the media and was a blatant act of self-censorship. Such an incident, no matter how undesirable to some members or to the government, forms an integral part of Legco proceedings and should be kept as a record. The Secretariat owes the public an explanation whether the production team was acting on its own or in response to guidelines given to them. The secretariat must amend the guidelines, if such instruction has been given.
In this connection I wish to point out that it is quite common for such central video feeds to be taken by media organisations rather than a production team with no news background. For example, BBC for UK Parliament, c-span for US Congress, etc and Radio Television Hong Kongin the old Legco building. As technical matters may be involved, it may be beneficial to both sides to discuss this issue immediately.
Last but not the least is the blurring in the separation of powers between the government and the Legco. On Page 4, Information Services Department photographers are regarded as photographers working for the Secretariat and thus enjoy priority in using the Photo Rooms and other designated locations. It gives the public an impression that government and Legco is one and the same team, not an independent body that provides check and balance as we have come to understand and which even the Basic Law acknowledges.
Despite verbal agreements on improvement, touching on part of the above-mentioned problems, the text remains as originally set out. It will nullify the verbal promise. We urge the Legislative Council Commission and the Secretariat to amend the guidelines in accordance with the pledge made by the Chairman, Jasper Tsang, to make Legco an open and free chamber.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Cc: Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, President, Legislative Council
Miriam Lau Kin-yee, vice-chairman of the Legislative Council Commission
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan, member of the Legislative Council Commission