Emergency services back down on secrecy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am


The Fire Services Department has bowed to pressure to revise its media relations rules and give more information to journalists.

The department had previously stuck to its policy of not providing details of any ambulance-service incidents in which fewer than eight people were injured, but it backed down after it came under fire for not reporting a crash involving one of its own ambulances and a motorcycle in Sha Tin for 11 hours. Police reported the accident to the media one hour and 20 minutes after it happened.

The cycle's rider, a 58-year-old locksmith, died and his 55-year-old wife remained in a critical condition yesterday, the tragedy coming just a week after the couple's son married.

The ambulance was carrying a patient to the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin.

The department denied it had tried to cover up the accident but admitted its rules for releasing information to the media 'may be unclear'.

A spokesman for the department said that after reviewing the regulations it would now report all crashes in which ambulances were involved, regardless of the number of injuries. The department was also 'actively considering' releasing details of other accidents.

A study by the Hong Kong Journalists Association found that the department had released information on an average of only one in every 10 incidents involving emergency vehicles since it moved to a fully digital command and control system at the start of February.

The new system prevented the media from independently monitoring all emergency vehicles, not just ambulance call-outs.

Maisy Lo Man-sze, convenor of the association's press freedom subcommittee, said it was not acceptable that the department delayed informing the media about a case involving its own ambulance. She urged the department to release details of all cases involving ambulances promptly.