My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 3:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 3:48am

Police and residents were being silly over Hong Kong shooting siege gripes


Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.

Police and residents have voiced strong criticism of events surrounding the weekend's fatal shootings on a Kowloon Bay public housing estate.

Several residents complained they were kept in the dark as the police moved many officers onto the estate to isolate the suspect in a man's death. I am not sure how representative they were of sentiment among residents, but the news media, both print and electronic, kept repeating their complaints the following day.

The police complaints were against the media, mostly broadcasters, for showing police operations non-stop on TV so the suspect holed up in his flat could have learned about the officers' operations and shot at them. Both sides were wide of the mark and being silly.

It seems in their zeal to prove their editorial independence at a time when accusations of press self-censorship are widespread, media bosses and editors feel the need to air any complaint against the police and the government, especially when it's not political or related to China.

The police surely did the right thing by first cordoning off the entire building, then only the 10th floor once the suspect had been isolated in his flat. Asking residents on that floor to evacuate would have endangered lives if the armed suspect came out. Keeping them in their own homes and phoning them to tell them about the danger was the responsible thing to do.

But some residents on other floors were not informed. Some said they learned everything from watching TV news. It's understandable they were afraid, but it's hard to imagine what police should tell them beyond the most basic information relating to the face-off, such as keep away from windows and avoid walking around the estate.

On the other hand, the police have only themselves to blame for failing to push back the press. When something newsworthy happens, reporters will try to get as close to the source as possible and report everything they know. If the suspect had offered an interview, I have no doubt some journalists would have been happy to meet him anywhere, including in his flat.

It was up to the police to keep reporters at a safe distance, from where they could not broadcast ongoing operations, something officers failed to do.


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