My Take

Hong Kong online news media are welcome to join the official fun

Decision to open press conferences and media events is the right one, but expect more entertainment, not an improvement in quality journalism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 12:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 1:03am

The government has made the right decision to open official press conferences and media events to online news media. At a time when more people are getting their news and views from the internet, it makes no sense to bar such outlets from official events.

But it will not make a difference to the free flow of information and quality of journalism. To be sure, the government aims to be more open and fairer to all journalists, not just those who work in the traditional news industry. It’s keeping up with the times.

Will relaxed rules for Hong Kong’s online media usher in digital age?

But, as a lifelong hack, I can tell you with confidence that you almost never miss anything by not attending an official press conference. The government’s information service today operates like a well-oiled machine. Reporters are provided with press releases and background briefs, some refer to them as spin or propaganda, which are all accessible online. Sometimes you can watch an event live with online streaming on your smartphone.

In a word, filing a report based on a press conference is little better than reworking a press release for publication. The best reporters I know – and I am very far from being one of them – despise such events and avoid them like a plague. At best, they may provide the starting point for a story or a few official quotes put at the end of a news article. For those who are lazy like yours truly, though, you can always get the quotes and figures you need from the government’s army of PR minders, otherwise known as information officers.

Opinion: Officials must wake up to digital media era

So the long-standing battle to lift the ban has little to do with press freedom or journalism. It has been fought by the opposition, political parties, advocacy groups and various news organisations for mostly political reasons.

For opposition parties, it was one more issue to fight the government and make it look like it was suppressing press freedom. The government foolishly played along, until now. For purely online news services, the recognition makes their operations bona fide. For more radical activist groups, it’s another chance to confront and shout at senior officials.

Nothing wrong with all that, as far as I am concerned. Everything is a political struggle these days. It’s just that the decision will not boost or “improve” online journalism. Press conferences, though, may be more chaotic and entertaining.