Four local press bodies have urged the government not to set up designated press areas during police operations - other than in exceptional circumstances. They argue such restrictions could curb media freedom. Their call, made at a Legco home affairs panel meeting, came after two journalists were handcuffed and arrested in April when they refused to remain restricted to a designated area during a police crackdown on abode seekers in Chater Garden, Central. The incident prompted an outcry from media and human rights groups, which said it was an abuse of police power. At the meeting, Mak Yin-ting, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, said it was inappropriate for police to have set up a press area during the incident. 'Police have not followed their procedural handbook. We believe the setting up of the press area hindered reporting at the scene.' Under the Police General Orders and the Force Procedures Manual, police should provide vantage points for the media to cover police operations. The association, together with the Hong Kong News Executives' Association, Hong Kong Press Photographers' Association and Hong Kong Federation of Journalists, called for a review and improvement of the existing process. The groups said press areas should only be set up in exceptional circumstances, such as protecting important political figures and evidence at crime scenes. Police should maintain communications with both frontline journalists and management of media organisations if press areas had to be set up, they said. Ms Mak said setting up press areas was against the Basic Law and international conventions that protected press freedom. She said the media had long voiced their opposition to the arrangement. But Chief Superintendent Tang How-kong, who heads the Police Public Relations Branch, said he was sorry to hear journalists complain about the setting up of press areas. He said police respected press freedom and had already improved procedures. He promised to improve communication with the media in future. Police officials agreed to report back to Legco in three months after further discussions with media representatives.