China’s foreign ministry office has told the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) to stop “meddling in Hong Kong affairs” after it opposed a police move to limit access to press briefings to only government-recognised media.
The redefinition of members of the press was meant to uphold media freedom and fell within the confines of the law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office in Hong Kong said on its social media accounts on Wednesday night.
“There is no absolute freedom of the press anywhere in the world that is above the law,” it said. “Hong Kong belongs to China and journalists working in the city should be prepared to follow the law of both jurisdictions and consciously accept the oversight of the law.
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The FCC has jumped out in a hurry to defend and whitewash these fake reporters who are really rioters
China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong
“The FCC has jumped out in a hurry to defend and whitewash these fake reporters who are really rioters. This is essentially sheltering and condoning the black rioters who seek to stir trouble in Hong Kong and giving them support. The FCC has sinister intentions and only hopes to see Hong Kong in chaos.”
Police said that beginning on Wednesday they would no longer recognise press accreditation from local media groups or journalist associations unless they were registered with the Information Services Department.
This means some freelancers, student reporters and unregistered new media outlets would not be included. Internationally recognised media outlets are not affected.
Under the revised guidelines, police will facilitate coverage only when it can be done “without compromising operational efficiency”.
While all journalists can continue to cover incidents and protests in public areas, unregistered ones could be prosecuted for illegal assembly or violating social-distancing rules. People working for unrecognised media outlets can be banned from events run by the force.
The FCC, local media organisations and universities have warned the restrictions damage press freedom.
On Wednesday, the FCC said the guidelines would take the power to decide who was a legitimate member of the media away from journalist groups and place it in the hands of a government entity, which would erode press independence. Club president Jodi Schneider declined to comment on the ministry’s statement. Seven Hong Kong journalism schools also issued a rare joint statement slamming the new rules and urging police to reverse the “ill-advised” policy, saying it would restrict reporting.
The Society of Publishers in Asia said it was extremely concerned about the new rules and urged the force to reverse its action.
“Ensuring that all media representatives, regardless of employment status, can do their jobs safely and that access to information is not curtailed is key to upholding the freedom of press enshrined in law,” it said.
Eight local media groups, including the Hong Kong Journalists Association, issued a joint statement on Thursday demanding the force drop the changes. The association said it had consulted several barristers on whether the amended guidelines infringed freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Basic Law and that it would file an application for a judicial review as soon as practicable.
Association chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing said he feared the new rules would pave the way for the force to arbitrarily set up restricted areas and frequently obstruct journalists.
“We are concerned the obstruction of, or even a ban on, news reporting will be rationalised in the name of maintaining [police] operational efficiency,” Yeung said.
Chan Yik-chiu, who chairs the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, suggested the force had failed to assist journalists’ work in its latest operations.
He cited the example of the raid at Apple Daily ’s offices in Tseung Kwan O last month after its boss Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was arrested by police’s national security unit on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces.
Photographers from certain media outlets were granted access to restricted areas outside the premises, but instead of capturing the moment Lai was taken away, the only pictures they could take from behind the police cordon were of officers going to the toilet or taking a lunchbox, he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- As Hong Kong police shift media guidelines, who will they recognise as journalists and what does it mean for those they do not?
- Hong Kong police limit access to press briefings to news outlets recognised by government, sparking concern and criticism from media groups