The Hong Kong government has no intention of screening media workers’ qualifications as freedom of the press is one of the core values of the city, turning down a request from a pro-establishment lawmaker.

“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,” Lau Kong-wah, the Secretary for Home Affairs, said in a statement in reply to questions raised by pro-establishment lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan, who urged the government to ban “fake reporters” at protest sites.

The government is firmly committed to safeguarding and respecting press freedom, and providing a suitable environment in which the media could exert its function as the fourth estate, Lau said.

It does not possess the information related to the issuance of press identification by media organizations other than the government-owned RTHK and has no plans to regulate the practice, he added.

While covering public order events, journalists should bring their reporter or company credentials for easy identification by police officers at the scene, pay attention to and follow police instructions and maintain an appropriate distance from police officers, said Lau.

Over the past few months, Quat has urged the Hong Kong government to grant the police the power to issue official press cards to reporters and photographers covering the protests. She claimed a lot of demonstrators had concealed their identities by disguising themselves as online media workers and many had acted illegally during protests.

The Hong Kong government did not accept Quat’s request for the reason that Hong Kong residents should be able to enjoy freedom of the press under the Basic Law’s Article 27.

In a joint statement published on November 20, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA) expressed their disappointment that at least 13 student reporters and online media reporters were arrested for staying in the Polytechnic University after police blocked the campus on November 17.

The police said all people would be arrested for being involved in the “PolyU riots” unless they were able to produce proof of the three types of journalists – press cards issued by media companies or membership cards of the HKJA and HKPPA.

The two industry groups said the requirement was unfair to student reporters. They also slammed the police for ordering a photographer with a valid press card to kneel and unlock his phone.

On December 26, a Stand News reporter was intercepted by several undercover police who did not show their warrant cards or action codes in Tai Po.

He was asked to show his press and ID card. However, a police officer showed the reporter’s ID card in front of a live camera, allegedly violating the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.

On many other occasions, officers forcefully pushed reporters and photographers with their batons and shields, used pepper spray and fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at them.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Hong Kong people gathered in front of a car park in Tseung Kwan O, mourning for Chow Tsz-lok, who died during an anti-extradition protest on November 8, 2019.

At about 10:30pm, a dozen undercover police charged into the crowd and arrested a black-clad person and a District Councilor’s assistant. They were followed by more than 100 riot police, who used batons and shields to forcefully push the press backward and shouted at them.

After the riot police left the site at midnight, people gathered again at the intersection of Tong Chung Street and Tong Ming Street, blocked the roads with debris and broke some traffic lights.

At 12:30am, riot police arrived again. Some officers blamed reporters for not helping to stop people from vandalizing public facilities. They said the presence of reporters at protest sites had fostered the “rioters.”

At one point, four police officers who did not have action codes on their uniforms intercepted an Asia Times reporter and checked his media pass and ID card.

They said his media pass was invalid as it was not issued by the HKJA. They said they would check the background of Asia Times with the Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) later. They let the reporter go, but warned him not to stay at the site.

In Hong Kong, journalists employed by media companies are not required to get a media pass from the HKJA or police to cover news on the streets. In real practice, they voluntarily wear reflective vests and show “press” on their clothes and helmets for identification.

Asia Times is an online media company registered in Hong Kong under the Local Newspaper Ordinance.

The PPRB has not replied to media inquiries’ about why the four police officers did not have action codes on their uniforms.

A police officer with no action code orders a reporter to stop shooting video. Photo: Asia Times
A policeman with no identity pushes a reporter with a baton and checks his ID card. Photo: Asia Times

Read: Hong Kong Poly U siege ‘a humanitarian crisis’

Read: HK media hit with rubber bullets, pepper spray