4th December 2019 – (Hong Kong) Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah responded in a written reply to Legislative Councillor, Wong Ting–kwong at the Legislative Council meeting today with regards to freedom of press and media identification.
In August this year, the Police received a report from the Hong Kong Journalists Association about a suspected forged press card found at the protest scene. In addition, when handling recent protests, the Police found that some people dressed as journalists left the protest scene after being enquired by the Police’s Media Liaison Team, or engaged in acts inconsistent with the reporting work of professional journalists, which include obstructing the Police’s arrest operations. This raised doubts about the authenticity of their identity as journalists. The Police do not maintain the detailed figures requested in the question. The Police would like to remind the public that anyone who produces, holds or uses a forged press card may commit forgery-related offences and is liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years.
(2) The Police respect press freedom and the media’s right to reporting. While the Police will make every effort to facilitate media reporting as far as circumstances permit during operations, it is their statutory duty to ensure public safety and public order. Both the press and the Police have their respective responsibilities. Mutual understanding and co-operation would be conducive to the work of both sides.
Hong Kong does not have any official organisation responsible for issuing press identification. As stated in the question, according to the constitution of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, only full members may be issued with press cards. For the Police, relevant guidelines have been formulated for officers to identify and verify the identity of media practitioners during public order events or other police operations by proof of identity or documents issued by media organisations or associations. When covering public order events, media practitioners should bring along proof of identity of reporters or testimonials issued by their companies and may wear easily recognisable clothing and armbands for easy identification by police officers at the scene.
The government believes that real professional journalists will not engage in illegal acts while reporting. They also hope that journalists would identify the people around them to discern whether they are really reporting. This could help prevent people, disguised as journalists, from engaging in acts with ulterior motives. If anyone comes across suspected fake journalists, they may inform the Police’s Media Liaison Team for follow-up, which include checking the work passes issued to these journalists by their organisations and asking them to leave the front-line reporting area.
(3) Press freedom is Hong Kong’s core value protected by the Basic Law and is the fundamental right enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong. The Government is firmly committed to safeguarding and respecting press freedom, and providing a suitable environment in which the media industry could exert its function as the fourth estate.
As to the suggestion of establishing an official organisation responsible for issuing press identification, the Chief Executive already responded at the media session on October 19, 2019. Respecting the freedom of press, the Government has no intention or plan to establish an official organisation to issue press identification.
The Government, as always, will continue to safeguard press freedom, facilitate media reporting and uphold the core value of Hong Kong.