Police play down memo on press queries

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am


The police have denied that an e-mail directive sent out last week by a high-ranking officer is aimed at limiting what officers tell the media or stifling the reporting of sensitive issues.

An e-mail from Albert Cheuk Chun-yin, the regional commander for Hong Kong Island, was sent on Monday to officers stating that district commanders could not answer press queries without seeking approval from the regional commander or his deputy, and that they would then have to discuss the official line to take with the Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB).

The directive was issued after a report in last weekend's Sunday Morning Post in which Kenneth Pemberton, assistant district commander for Central, was directly quoted about the arrest of a serial rapist who was targeting women drinking in Lan Kwai Fong bars. The usual protocol for the media's use of police quotes is that they must be issued through the PPRB, rather than directly from an officer.

The police said Cheuk's message was meant only to 'reiterate the requirements of such procedures'.

However, Mak Yin-ting (pictured), chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said it showed the police were out to obstruct rather than instruct the city's media.

Mak emphasised that it only made sense that the senior officer involved with the case should be the one to talk about it, and that having to go through these extra processes was just a way of trying to censor what was initially said.

'It is putting the cart before the horse to request the regional commander or his deputy to verify what to say with the PPRB before speaking to the press,' Mak said. 'The government, including the police force, should delegate power to subject officers, who know the most details of the subject matter, and they should answer to the public via the media.'

Mak said she believed that the directive showed once again the centralisation of the release of public information and the way in which the practice 'deviates from the common practice of open government'.

'It has been the public relations practice in advanced democratic countries since the 1980s that this power be delegated to mid-ranking officials to answer to the public,' she said. 'In this sense, Hong Kong is at least 20 years behind the trend.'

Mak also said that in the past seven to eight years, reporters had encountered difficulties in getting information from the police. But the police said they were committed to providing timely information and assistance to facilitate the media's reporting, and would take every possible step to ensure that information released to journalists 'is timely, accurate and within the bounds of the law'. 'There are established force procedures on how officers should deal with media enquiries to ensure an appropriate level of attention and action be given to the inquiries,' a PPRB spokesman said.