Freedom of the press is one of the values that sets Hong Kong apart. We are reminded of that from time to time by the experiences of local journalists on assignment elsewhere, including the mainland, where they have faced obstruction to their work from the authorities, and even in Macau, where they have been refused entry on vague grounds of posing a threat to public order.
In both places they were trying to do no more than legitimate reporting, even if the subject matter may have been sensitive. It comes as a shock, therefore, when such antipathy for one of our core values raises its head at home.
In this case the target was South China Morning Post photographer May Tse, while she was photographing parallel traders stocking up on infant milk formula near Sheung Shui MTR station.
Police arrested two men, both Hong Kong permanent residents, after she was slapped in the face, abused and pressured to delete her pictures. Her photographs were intended to illustrate a rush on milk powder the day before a limit on the amount travellers can take across the border took effect, to ensure supplies for local mothers.
As Hong Kong Press Photographers Association chairman Tyrone Siu said, Tse was taking pictures on a controversial current issue before a change in the law about which the general public had a right to be informed. Enforcement of the new law is, after all, a major operation, involving hundreds of customs officers and X-ray machines at border crossings. Tse was also carrying out her photographic assignment in an open public space where there was no issue of privacy.
It was probably a case of overreaction from the parallel traders, but the fact that the two arrested men were Hongkongers suggests there is room for better education of local residents on the concept of the rule of law and respecting the legitimate rights of journalists. After all, the rule of law and free speech are pillars of a free society.