Police rethink on media after Li Keqiang visit
Niall Fraser and Simpson Cheung
Police are changing the way they deal with the media after fierce criticism of their actions during last year's visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and accusations of heavy-handed treatment of journalists since Andy Tsang Wai-hung became head of the force 15 months ago.
The new approach, initial details of which have been obtained by the Sunday Morning Post, comes ahead of a crucial six months for the force.
It will have to cope with an expected visit by President Hu Jintao for the 15th anniversary of the handover, the hectic first months of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's leadership and September's Legislative Council election.
At the core of the initiative is a special cadre of officers who worked in the media before joining the force. They will start specialist training this week. The Post understands an initial 34 officers - many of them with the rank of inspector - will take part. The media-savvy officers have been drawn from police regions across the city and will make up the Media Liaison Teams to deal with journalists on the ground to 'facilitate media coverage of major events'.
A source familiar with the plan said its aim was to supplement the work of the Police Public Relations Bureau, which currently handles all media relations.
Chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association Mak Yin-ting hoped it would not be merely a 'cosmetic' exercise.
She said: 'I think it shows that the force management recognise they have to improve the relationship between the police and the media.
'Whether these teams will act as a hindrance or be used to manipulate the media remains unclear. I would give this a qualified welcome ... We are yet to see how this might work.'
Force chiefs say officers joining the special teams do so on a voluntary basis, but some of those taking part feared that saying 'no' might affect their career prospects.
One officer, who did not want to be identified, said: 'I joined the force to catch criminals. However, some of the guys I've spoken to seem quite keen to utilise their previous experience and become dual-role cops.'
Earlier this month, the Independent Police Complaints Council endorsed the findings of the Complaints Against Police Office on nine complaints concerning Li's visit in August and ordered further investigation of six more.
Two officers who stopped a cameraman from filming will face a disciplinary hearing and could be sacked.
Police Commissioner Tsang drew scorn when he said the two officers had been reacting to a 'black shadow' moving towards them.
A radio journalist's complaint that officers had searched her bag and purse was substantiated, but investigators said there was no problem with police setting up a single press area that reporters said was too far away from Li.
An unnamed chief inspector will receive a warning for telling a Now TV journalist that, if she refused to move, a truck would be parked in front of the spot where she was filming.