Hong Kong government bars more journalists from covering handover anniversary, with at least 13 now denied access to events
- Three representatives from Hong Kong Economic Times, news website HK01 and broadcaster TVB among latest denied permission to cover celebratory events on July 1
- They had previously received approval notices from authorities to begin isolation ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit, but were not allowed to check in at quarantine hotels
The Hong Kong government has barred more journalists from covering official events marking the 25th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule on security grounds, while two media associations have demanded authorities reconsider the rejections.
At least 13 journalists from nine local and international media outlets based in Hong Kong had now been denied permission to cover the celebratory events, one day ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city. A Post photographer is among those on the rejected list.
The latest round of rejections included three representatives from Hong Kong Economic Times, news website HK01 and broadcaster TVB.
A source said that although the three had previously received approval from authorities to move into quarantine hotels to fulfil the isolation requirement before covering the events, they were not allowed to check in on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong News Executives’ Association expressed deep regret over the move it regarded as “extremely confusing”, including the “last-minute” notice the ban was made on security grounds, effectively preventing media organisations from sending replacements amid the strict Covid-19 quarantine and testing policies in place for Xi’s visit.
“[The arrangements] bar relevant news outlets from covering the events, which will hinder the news reporting and seriously undermine the public’s right to information,” the group said, adding the government should ensure the legitimate rights of journalists.
According to invitations previously sent out by the Information Services Department to media outlets, all journalists who signed up must undergo daily nucleic acid tests for Covid-19 starting from last Sunday, and isolate themselves in quarantine hotels from Wednesday if they wanted to cover the swearing-in ceremony of the new government.
The association demanded clarification from authorities and asked for flexible, effective measures to ensure reporting would not be affected.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong also expressed deep concern and urged the government to immediately reconsider the restrictions to allow all outlets to cover the events, which included a flag-raising ceremony and the inauguration of incoming leader John Lee Ka-chiu and his cabinet on July 1. Xi is expected to oversee the latter in person.
The club added that in the past, similar official events were open to media registration without invitation or vetting.
“The [club] views these restrictions – enforced without detailed explanation – as a serious deviation from that stated commitment to press freedom,” it said.
Ronson Chan Ron-sing, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said a senior official from the department had failed to elaborate on the “security grounds” the department previously cited during a phone conversation on Tuesday.
“It is gloomy that some Hong Kong media outlets can’t cover the handover anniversary of Hong Kong,” he said.
The denial of access, the scale of which is unprecedented, has sparked speculation that a new mechanism is in place to conduct “political vetting” of journalists before they are allowed to cover high-level events.
The department on Wednesday refused to comment on the speculation or the latest round of rejections. Its spokesman asked the Post to refer to a statement it issued the previous day, which said: “The government is striking a balance as far as possible between the needs of media work and security requirements. We will not comment on the accreditation outcome of individual organisations and persons.”
According to notices the department sent to approved journalists who were undergoing self-isolation in quarantine hotels on Wednesday, people entering the venues were not allowed to wear outfits with political, racial or offensive messages, or bring items for demonstration purposes. Anyone who intended to interfere with the events could be asked to leave the venues, it said.
Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a former vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee which advises Beijing on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, on Wednesday fended off the speculation, saying she did not believe “a blacklist” existed to screen out journalists.
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a former Hong Kong delegate to the country’s top legislature, also said it was not an issue of press freedom.
“[Media outlets] are still allowed to send in another reporter. What we should criticise is that some Hong Kong-based media outlets, especially from Western countries, keep finding fault with what happened in Hong Kong,” she said without referring to specific organisations.
The Post learned of its rejection on Tuesday afternoon.
As of Wednesday, rejected applicants also included at least one photographer from the Information Services Department and representatives from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Cable TV, Ming Pao and Now TV.
While the Post was not informed of the reasons for the rejection, the government was said to have told other media organisations the applications were turned down for security reasons.
But the department did not mention the coverage arrangement for the events when it contacted the Post about the accreditation results on Tuesday.