Police accused of 'media discrimination' at rally
Journalists condemned the police's 'discriminatory' press arrangements yesterday as only four TV stations were allowed to use a media zone close to the central government liaison office to report a commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown.
A day after Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung promised a more 'flexible' approach in response to media complaints, reporters from newspapers and radio stations found themselves excluded from a reporting zone in front of the office.
They were informed of the arrangement an hour before 80 participants for a run to remember the June 4, 1989, pro-democracy movement arrived at 1pm. Patrick Kwok Pak-chung, senior superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, said only four TV stations could enter the zone due to lack of space.
'We have to strike a balance between public order and facilitating the media's needs,' Kwok said.
The restricted zone was a raised concrete planting area for bushes about half the size of a badminton court. But because of the bushes, the media were restricted to two corners of the zone. Another space across the centre of the planting area was fenced off as a police 'action area'.
Movement around the zone was restricted to a stretch of pavement less than 2 metres wide.
Non-TV reporters had to either retreat to another media zone further away from the office's entrance or squeeze their way through the protesters who gathered on the narrow pavement.
The police changed their initial decision only after some non-TV reporters entered the restricted media zone and refused to listen to the officers' advice to leave.
Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the Journalists Association, criticised police for restricting press freedom. 'The arrangement divides the media and discriminates against non-TV reporters,' she said.
'Even if space was limited, reporters could work out among themselves as to where to do their reporting. Do the police think of themselves as the chief news editor of Hong Kong?'
She added: 'We are against the designation of reporting areas. Journalists should be free to move around unless in very exceptional circumstances. But unfortunately, police seem to be making make such designations a regular practice.'
Since last year, police have imposed more restrictions on covering protests outside the liaison office, limiting reporters to a press zone far from the rallies.
In a protest earlier this month, officers forbade reporters to approach protesters.
The association is compiling a report to make a stance against the designation of media zones and will submit it to the Independent Police Complaints Council. Lam Chun-tung, chairman of the Press Photographers Association, also rejected the practice. Police Commissioner Tsang said he would continue to listen to the associations' views. But he said that the 'police's responsibility to perform its duty always comes first'.
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organised the demonstration outside the liaison office, objected to the limiting of reporters' movements.
'The planter [planting area] only serves the political purpose to limit freedom of assembly and of the press. It should be removed,' he said.
Lee also criticised police for limiting protesters' movements by requiring them to march in a straight line outside the office - which they defied.
The 23-km run drew a record 160 runners, mostly university students.