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Press freedom in Hong Kong

Don’t shoot the messenger: Hong Kong education chief Eddie Ng needs a lesson in media relations

Calling in the Security Bureau instead of the police because he was being tailed by two reporters shows shortcomings in his dealings with the press

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 December, 2015, 3:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 December, 2015, 3:00am

Mistreating reporters in a vibrant media environment like Hong Kong’s is unwise, even more so when it involves alleged abuse of official power. The strong reaction from the media industry over the way education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim has handled reporters following him around should teach him a good lesson.

The minister said he felt threatened, after being tailed for days. As a result, the two journalists from a Chinese-language newspaper were detained for more than 90 minutes on suspicion of loitering on Christmas Eve, even though they produced their press cards when police arrived at the scene.

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s education minister, Eddie Ng, accused of abusing power by calling Security Bureau to deal with reporters on his tail

Hong Kong journalists are known for being aggressive. If Ng felt his personal safety was under threat, he had the right to seek help from the police just like any other citizen. Ng claimed he did not know they were reporters, who followed him in an unmarked vehicle and had not disclosed their identities. But the fact that a call was made to the Security Bureau via the Education Bureau shows that Ng was not seeking help through the usual channels that are available to the public.

Ng has become the focus of media attention lately after he went on holiday to Japan at the peak of the primary school teaching assessment row. There are limits as to how far the media can go in exercising their duties. But the detention of journalists at work has raised valid questions over press freedom.

READ MORE: Hong Kong journalists group blasts police and education minister over news reporters’ arrest

Ng, a former human resources manager, is seen as the least politically seasoned and media savvy in the administration. He is a stark contrast to labour and welfare chief Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who became the highest level official in recent years to face an aggressive crowd at the weekly City Forum on the proposed universal pension scheme on Sunday. It takes a veteran like Cheung to appreciate that media professionals are better treated as friends than foes. It would go a long way if there is better engagement and healthy interaction among officialdom, the media and the people.