Indonesia denies curbing press freedom by revoking media passes of Hong Kong journalists

Indonesian official says expelled HK media staff posed security threat, while Aquino spokesman accuses Now TV journalists of 'crossing line'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 2:27am

Apec host Indonesia has denied stifling press freedom by barring Hong Kong journalists who "screamed" questions at Philippine president Benigno Aquino, saying they had posed a security threat.

"We deemed it improper for media to act that way, as they didn't talk normally but they were very demonstrative, like they were protesting," Indonesian communications ministry official Gatot Dewa Broto, who is in charge of the Apec media centre, said. "So we did this due to security concerns."

Aquino's spokesman, Ricky Carandang, meanwhile said the Now TV journalists had "crossed the line" by aggressively questioning the president about the Manila hostage siege in which eight Hongkongers were killed in a hijacked tour bus three years ago.

Amid strong criticism of press-freedom infringement, a female reporter and two cameramen sent to cover the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Bali were taken to a local police station about lunchtime yesterday.

The three, including the reporter and cameraman who covered Aquino's participation at a commercially-organised Apec CEO summit on Sunday, were stopped at a security checkpoint when they were returning to their hotel. They were later released but were asked to move out of the hotel as it was situated within the Apec restricted area.

The initial incident took place on Sunday, when reporters from Now TV, RTHK and Commercial Radio had their media badges confiscated by summit personnel after they had questioned Aquino in a non-restricted area.

Video:Apec summit staff kicked out Hong Kong reporters for "screaming" at President of Philippines

The summit organiser later froze the press passes of the whole Now TV crew, including those not at Sunday's scene.

At least nine reporters were on the organiser's watch-list - six of them from Now TV.

Carandang said the journalists had crossed an ethical boundary.

"As a former journalist I know what it's like to aggressively question a subject," he said. "The behaviour of these reporters crossed the line from mere questioning to heckling."

But the two main journalist associations in Hong Kong expressed strong anger and regret at the decision.

The Hong Kong News Executives' Association filed a complaint letter to Apec executive director Alan Bollard yesterday to express shock and regret.

"The confiscation of the reporters' press passes is deeply regrettable, unacceptable and unnecessary," association chairman Ronald Chiu Ying-chun said in the letter.

He demanded an explanation of what rules and criteria governed the decision to confiscate journalists' badges.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association also strongly condemned the organisers' action, adding it was astonished to hear the summit media centre accusing Hong Kong reporters of posing a potential threat.

"We are angry with such an absurd and vicious accusation. It is completely an attempt to discredit the integrity of Hong Kong reporters," the association stated in a letter to CEO summit chairman Wishnu Wardhana.

The Journalists Association urged the relevant authorities to make sure the affected parties could resume their duties.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying just smiled and walked away when he was asked about the incident.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the government was following up the issue with Apec.

Vice-minister of foreign affairs Liu Zhenmin said Beijing was mindful that the passes of some Hong Kong reporters had been confiscated and encouraged the Hong Kong media to actively communicate with the organiser and the Indonesian government on the issue.