Online media organisations are being denied access to government events not for political reasons but because officials are "not in a position to distinguish between them", Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said yesterday.
Tsang was asked why online media organisations had been denied the right to register with the government's information services website, which would entitle them to invitations to government events and media passes for officials' activities, as well as access to government headquarters in Admiralty.
Tsang's reply to the question from information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok failed to impress Wong Yeung-tat, founder of the online Passion Times, who believes websites are denied access for "political and bureaucratic" reasons.
Other media organisations seeking government access include the inmediahk.net  website.
But at the Legislative Council meeting yesterday, Tsang said granting access to online media would be impossible.
"In the absence of a legally binding registration or licensing regime, as in the case of the mainstream media, we are not in a position to distinguish among a wide range of online media, nor is it possible for us to grant access to all those claiming themselves to be 'online media'," Tsang said.
"With the threshold for creating a media platform substantially lowered by the prevalence of the internet, almost anyone can set up a media website," he added.
Asked whether the government was "censoring radical and critical" media, Tsang said: "There is no political consideration involved; media organisations with different political views have been covering [our activities]. But we just cannot allow some online media to cover those activities while rejecting others. The administration must follow a set of objective and transparent standards … and there is no such regulation yet."
Tsang said it would be inappropriate for the government to regulate online media.
In deciding whether to allow a media organisation to cover an activity, officials would take into account whether its focus was on the reporting of public affairs, rather than commentary or other areas of news such as entertainment or sport, he added.