Following is the translation of the speech delivered by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Lee Ming-kwai, at a luncheon meeting of Newspaper Society of Hong Kong today (November 23):
Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very honoured to be invited to attend this luncheon meeting. My topic for today is "Cooperation between the Police and the News Media". I am also very pleased to have this chance to share some personal views with you, and to communicate and exchange views with the news media. In fact, the news media and the Force are similar in some ways as the Force also has a bi-weekly newspaper 'OffBeat' and a weekly TV programme 'Police Magazine'. Despite the fact that some of our reports are of use to you and are reprinted or quoted on some occasions by you, I would be overshadowed in the presence of so many experts here if I were to talk about issues on news reporting. Therefore, I think it's better for me to focus on the issue of our cooperation.
"No news is good news" is a well used old saying, which come about no doubt because there is much more bad news than good news most of the time. However, I know that to all of you no news is definitely bad news. The public learn what happens in society through the reports of the different media every day. Things of public concern, be they crimes, accidents, disasters, public order events, etc, invariably involve the police. For this reason, the police have many opportunities to come into contact with the media, and therefore also have many chances to come into conflict with them.
Once in a meeting with the media representatives, I told them that I would "re-examine myself daily". If the Force is not doing sufficiently well, we will make an effort to improve. And this is what we do: "correct the mistakes, if any, or keep our good record if no mistakes have been committed". I believe that by reflecting truly what the police have done, whether good or bad, the media play a monitoring role which has a positive effect upon the police even if some of the media comments are negative in nature. Let me quote a real example. Last week I was asked by the reporters about the escape of a suspect in custody and whether this would arouse public anxiety. I replied, "The Force arrests several ten thousand of people a year. Although no one wants such thing to happen, having one escape is not surprising and the public need not worry about it." To a veteran police officer, this seems to be normal, but to the public, the escape of arrested people, even just one of them, is certainly something to be concerned about. As the Commissioner of Police, I really should not have given such an indiscreet comment, however I did not feel unhappy after reading the subsequent news report. Instead I felt that I had learnt a valuable lesson, for I failed to make use of the chance to reassure the public through the media. The monitoring role of the media is good to society. It is also an essential element of any open and free society.
Hong Kong is considered as an open and free society and the freedom enjoyed by the news media is among the best in the Asia and Pacific region. With freedom of speech and publication in Hong Kong, the media have absolute editorial independence. Such freedoms and rights are protected by law. Although the newspapers are often found to be critical of the government, most of their harsh comments are made out of good will and their commitment to society. I consider this as a characteristic of Hong Kong and also a general rule in any open society. Press freedom is one of Hong Kong's major assets and also one of the main factors which contribute to its success. The media workers are duty bound to report news and report the true facts as they are, whether good or bad. Biased or sensational reports occasionally do occur, however in general, the media report the truth.
Hong Kong has more than 10 newspapers and numerous publications, and competition is keen. The front-line reporters seem to work in a 'battlefield' and life is never easy for them.
With such a large population living in a small city like Hong Kong, any dramatic news will easily attract a great number of reporters to flock to the scene. Previously, there were three to four electronic media agencies and over a dozen Chinese and English language newspapers. Now, the number of the radio and television stations amounts to ten. In addition to the Chinese and English newspapers, there are numerous magazines and publications, information websites and the local offices of foreign media and news agencies, not to mention the reporters of the media agencies of the Mainland and Taiwan who occasionally appear. Running a newspaper in Hong Kong is not an easy task in such a competitive environment where profits can in no way be guaranteed. Without a mission and vision, it is hard to keep going. Here I pay my highest regards to the members of the press.
Regarding the front-line reporters, I am particularly impressed by the drive and energy they display. Their working attitude is similar to that of police officers who spare no effort at work, no matter how difficult the situation is. I take this opportunity to pay my highest tribute to the front-line reporters who in the post have sustained injuries or even gave their lives in the line of work.
Hong Kong has undergone many trials. The Hong Kong police have always made dedicated and strenuous efforts to achieve their ultimate objective of maintaining law and order. With the commitment to seek out the truth with tenacity, the reporters strive alongside with us to serve society, paying no heed to rewards.
I believe that there is no conflict between policing work and news reporting in terms of their nature. I believe in press freedom and I also know that the government adheres to the principle of freedom of information. There is the need for transparency in policing work in order to enhance accountability to the public. The Force always adopts an open attitude to facilitate as far as possible the media in reporting news. We have been working side by side with the news media in the release of information over the years, safeguarding the interests of the public and their right to information.
The Force has devoted a large amount of resources to handling its relationship with the media. The Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) is the main contact point with the media. Assistance required by the news media, such as information relating to the Force, crime figures, interviews of police officers and even press briefings, are all arranged by the PPRB. At present, the PPRB receives over 800 enquiries a day, most of which are, as far as possible responded to within the day. I can assure you that our Information Officers definitely exert their best efforts to provide every possible assistance to the news media.
The PPRB is the only 24-hour-operated news agency established outside the Information Services Department Headquarters. Moreover, its Chief Superintendent and Chief Information Officer are often required to answer enquires of the media and take follow-up actions outside officer hours.
In order to inform the public of the effectiveness of the Force in the maintenance of law and order and crime prevention work, we organise two press conferences each year. The first is the annual press conference held at the beginning of the year by myself and my two Deputy Commissioners to review the overall incidence of crime during last year, and a second press conference is held in July each year by two Senior Assistant Commissioners to report on crimes committed in the first half of the year.
During the year, the news media also often report on crime information of public concern released by the Fight Crime Committee. While attending public occasions or various activities, I myself and my colleagues are also required to answer enquiries from the media. We are all very willing to brief the media as situations permit.
All of you here often have the opportunity to work overseas. I sincerely hope that you will compare the relationship between the Hong Kong police and the media with the relationship between the overseas law enforcement agencies and their media, and give us your opinions so that we can make continuous improvements in our service.
I would now like to take this opportunity to report the crime situation of the first ten months of this year.
During the period, there has been a downward trend in overall crime and the number of crimes have dropped 6,155 to 67,783, representing a decrease of 8.3% as compared to the corresponding period of last year. Violent crime also dropped by 745 reports, a decrease of 6.1%. In conclusion, given the resource constraints confronted by the Force in recent years, the law and order situation this year has been, on the whole, satisfactory. Special precautions will be taken every winter and during the next one and a half months we will continue our efforts to maintain social stability and law and order.
Lastly, I would like to reaffirm the Force strategy towards the media. We understand that the media face fierce competition in seeking information, therefore we are ready to make practical arrangements for them to facilitate their work as far as practicable. While making these arrangements, we have to take account of our responsibility, as well as social and legal obligations and requirements. We must strike a proper balance between these considerations and show understanding and sympathy for each other with a view to gaining "win-win" results for both of us.
The Force respects press freedom and there has never been any change in this. The cooperation between the Force and the news media has a long history. The Force has always endeavoured to establish a positive and constructive partnership with the news media. The partnership I have just mentioned refers to an interactive relationship which is also built upon our social responsibilities. I hope that the Force and the news media will maintain good communications. At the moment, I do not see any tremendous obstructions in our communications. I would like to maintain frank dialogues as this will help enhance mutual trust and facilitate the understanding of each other's situations and duties, so that a sound working foundation can be established.
Police Report No. 4
Issued by PPRB
End/1510 hours, Tuesday, November 23, 2004