The police will only restrict journalists covering an event to a specified 'media zone' under special circumstances, the city's police chief told media workers yesterday, a decision hailed as a breakthrough in efforts to ensure press freedom.
Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung made the pledge at a meeting with media workers' groups, a day after an interim report from the police watchdog upheld complaints about the handling of Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's visit in August. The report rejected the police's claim that two officers who blocked a cameraman filming an arrest were reacting to a 'black shadow'.
Police had been criticised for restricting reporters to media zones during high-profile events such as protests and visits by VIPs. Journalists, photographers and cameramen said the media zones, which police said were essential to maintain public order, restricted their ability to do their job.
Tsang has agreed that public order concerns alone will no longer be enough to justify restricting journalists' movements, and that more specific guidelines will be drawn up.
'This promise is certainly a breakthrough, but I have reservations,' said Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, who attended the meeting. 'The police have a lot of staff, and it will depend on how well informed they all are of this new guideline.
'And this is quite difficult to enforce, as the officers do not have much instruction on what reason they can give right now, but at least it is a step that they have to go through now,' she said.
Mak said the whole meeting - lasting an hour and a half - was devoted to discussion of the new agreement. She said Tsang had earlier told his 30,000 officers to apply 'flexibility' in treating the media, and to force the media back into their cordoned zone only if public order was threatened.
'We did not find that acceptable, and so during the meeting, we argued with Tsang over every word of these guidelines, and came up with this new agreement,' she said.
But Mak said the media groups had not had time to discuss their concerns about the media arrangements for Li's visit or the location of the media zone for protests outside the central government's liaison office.
Last night, a police spokesman said: 'We in principle agree that there is no need to set up a DPA [designated press area] under general circumstances except in certain police operations. Police will review the policy of DPA, including the criteria for setting up a DPA, and will carefully consider the views of the media.'