Officials must wake up to digital media era
Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she wants to allow reporters from online news outlets to attend government press conferences and reopen Civic Square, so it’s time to get off the fence
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says she wants to be more conciliatory and less confrontational. She keeps dropping hints that she would reopen Civic Square and allow reporters from digital media to attend press events. So what’s she waiting for? There is no need for further consultation. Come on, Carrie, strike a blow for freedom of the press and expression. The news media have gone online, and you can’t use print and TV as criteria to judge the legitimacy of a news group anymore.
In both cases, it seems the government has taken the advice of its police and security experts. Civic Square had been a magnet for protesters because it is located at the government headquarters in Admiralty. But after the mass rallies against national education in the summer of 2014, it was closed off by the previous administration. In the case of electronic media representatives being barred from attending government press functions, it appears the main concern has been with security and disruption because many news sites and blogs are anti-government. Some are more political groups than real news organisations.
According to Chris Yeung, the new chairman of the Journalists Association, the Information Services Department and Home Affairs Bureau have no strong objection to letting in representatives from online news services; it’s really the police and Security Bureau. But security specialists can only give you the security angle. Ultimately, these are political decisions, and they are no-brainers.
The public has every right to access a square on government ground. A court case is now trying to decide whether the government as the landlord has the right to restrict access. Let’s save on legal costs and let everyone in.
As for the fear of radicals and protesters, well, they can confront officials in public and don’t have to wait for a press conference. You can always kick them out if they look more like protesters than reporters. But if the concern is to protect bona fide journalists, don’t bother. Most government forums are terribly dull affairs. A bit of disturbance will help keep us awake. Such protesters are likely to be stakeholders and so are probably worth a quote for our stories anyway.
There are now some very good and perfectly legitimate digital news groups. It would be a shame to continue to ban their reporters from government briefings.