A journalists' group yesterday criticised the Fire Services Department for withholding information from the media since it adopted a new communications system at the start of the month.
The Journalists' Association said the department had only released one in 10 incident reports on an average day since it fully adopted a digital command and control communications system on February 1. The police currently release about 20 per cent of their incident reports.
Under the old analog radio system news reporters had been able to listen in on the department's radio communications. The new system means the media can no longer pick up the department's communications with firemen at accident sites.
The department said it would release timely and sufficient updates, but association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting yesterday said it had not kept its promise.
A study conducted on February 14 and 15 found the department only announced 215 and 210 cases, respectively, equivalent to about 10 per cent of daily incident reports.
She said: 'That means about 90 per cent of cases were retained by the department. The situation is worrying us.'
There were also problems with delays and insufficient information. In the case of a fatal attack against a security guard by a mentally ill neighbour at Choi Yuen Estate, Sheung Shui, on January 30, the department did not post anything, even details of whether it sent an ambulance.
The association criticised the department for covering up cases in the name of protecting privacy. 'What we need involves nothing about privacy. We are not asking for the release of names or ages or the like of people involved in the cases. We are just asking for real-time issues of cases,' Mak said.
'They are just trying to cover up cases they don't want to publicise in the name of protecting privacy. Why do they censor? The messages from the Fire Services Department were more related to public safety [compared to those from the police].'
A spokesman for the department defended its record.
He said it posted 7,500 cases from January to the middle of this month, with fire cases comprising about 60 per cent, and special services taking the rest.
Less than one per cent of cases were not publicised.
He said the digitalised system was rolled out to meet the demands of frontline firemen and ambulance crews and was not intended to hinder press freedom.
The press group will meet department officials today to resolve the issue.