The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) notes with concern the Chief Executive’s forthcoming live debate with Civic Party leader, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee as part of a campaign to create greater awareness over its political reform package.
However, the HKJA is dismayed by the administration’s handling of media arrangements regarding the debate thus far. If the administration is sincere in facilitating comprehensive and widespread coverage of this historical debate, it is imperative that adequate arrangements are made for the media to report freely on the debate from the very chamber in which the debate is being conducted.
The HKJA believes the purpose of “political reform” is to improve governance and ensure government is truly fair, transparent, and accountable to the people. This administration’s hesitation in allowing the media give full scrutiny of the debating conditions makes a mockery of its assertions it wishes to “progress” in political development. Worldwide, it is an undeniable trend to better facilitate “open governance” with meetings either being open to the public, or at least documented, minuted, and if classified – declassified after a certain period of time. Any attempt to restrict free reporting of public debates is a retrogressive step in political development.
The HKJA urges the administration to allow media access to the very chamber in which the debate will take place, without confinement in glassy rooms. Access to the venue should be free, fair and equal for all forms of media, including print and electronic, photographers, cameramen and reporters.
Adequate measures to ensure the debate can be broadcast and understood in both English and Chinese must be implemented. Open access reporting must not be at the expense of the availability of interpreters. Again, measures in this regard falling short of what is already provided for in meetings of the Legislative Council would display a retrogressive step in political development.
Should the administration fail to implement these arrangements, the HKJA urges media organisations to give these circumstances serious consideration before deciding how the debate should be covered, or whether further action is required.
The HKJA makes the call in light of a trend of this administration’s deteriorating openness and accountability. We note with regret on the media arrangements of Chief Executive and his cabinet’s visits in relation to the “Act Now” campaign. In the past three rounds of street campaigning, media were either ignored or ill informed by the administration. The HKJA would like to remind the Chief Executive and his team that they were not making these visits in their private capacity, but did so with the aid of a considerable amount of public resources, while handing out material paid for by the public purse. They have to answer to the public and under the scrutiny of the media acting as the eyes and ears of the public. Failure, or worse still, the deliberate avoidance of the media, again puts into question this administration’s commitment to a fair, transparent, and accountable government.
We therefore urge the government to inform the media properly of the itinerary of any further “Act Now” street campaigns in order to facilitate proper scrutiny of the government’s use of public resources, government integrity, and its sincerity in being accountable to the people.