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LCQ11: Policies and guidelines relating to coverage of government events by media organisations
     Following is a question by the Hon Ma Fung-kwok and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):
     At present, the Government issues press notices to media organisations through the Government News and Media Information System (GNMIS). Registered users of GNMIS include registered printed newspapers and periodicals, radio stations, television stations and news agencies. On the ground that currently there is no registration or licensing regime relating to online media, the Government does not issue press notices to online media. On the 7th of June last year, the Hong Kong Journalists Association lodged a complaint with the Office of The Ombudsman (the Office) about the Information Services Department (ISD) (i) denying the access of online media to the media centre for the Election Committee Subsector Elections to conduct news coverage on the same day and (ii) refusing online media to use GNMIS. In its reply, the Office stated that the complaint was substantiated. It also pointed out that under the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents enjoy freedom of the press. Hence, the Government should, pursuant to that principle, try its best to create an environment for the free flow of information and facilitate news coverage by media organisations. Furthermore, the Office urged the Government to expeditiously review the relevant policies and guidelines. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the specific justifications of ISD for refusing online media to (i) cover government events and (ii) register as users of GNMIS;
(2) of ISD's current policies pertaining to inviting media organisations to cover government events and allowing media organisations to register as users of GNMIS; whether ISD will, in response to the development of the media industry, revise such policies so that online media may cover government events as other media organisations do; if ISD will, of the details; whether ISD will, pending the revision of such policies, consider exercising discretion to allow journalists of online media to cover large-scale government events, such as the upcoming Chief Executive Election and Legislative Council by-election(s) and to enter the relevant media work areas; if ISD will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) as ISD is reviewing the current practice for online media to cover government events, of the details, progress and projected completion date of that review;
(4) as the policy of The Legislative Council Commission stipulates that news organisations (including online ones) may be regarded as eligible news organisations if they carry original reporting of Legislative Council-related news on a regular basis and have lawfully registered whose principal business is news reporting, and their representatives may be issued with admission passes to conduct news coverage in the Legislative Council Complex, whether ISD will adopt similar criteria for deciding which news organisations are to be allowed to cover government events; if not, of the reasons for that; and
(5) whether ISD will consider accepting the Office's recommendations of relaxing the eligibility criteria for registration as users of GNMIS and drawing up guidelines for GNMIS subscribers; if ISD will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region attaches great importance to the functions of the media.  It strives to disseminate government information to the public through the mass media and facilitate media reporting work as far as possible.
     My reply to the Hon Ma Fung-kwok's questions is as follows:
(1) and (2) Currently, subscribers of the Government News and Media Information System (GNMIS) of the Information Services Department (ISD) have to be registered or licensed mass news media organisations. These organisations include:
(i) Registered Printed Newspapers and Periodicals
     Newspapers and news periodicals registered with the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance (Cap. 268), as well as their associated websites.
(ii) Radio Stations
     Government-funded radio broadcasters and radio organisations that possess a Sound Broadcasting Licence granted under the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106).
(iii) Television Stations
     Government-funded TV broadcasters, and commercial TV broadcasters that possess a Domestic Free Television Programme Service Licence or a Domestic Pay Television Programme Service Licence, or a Non-domestic Television Programme Service Licence granted under the Broadcasting Ordinance (Cap. 562).
(iv) News Agencies
     News agencies registered with the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance, as well as news agencies, newspapers, magazines and television/radio stations on the list of "Overseas Journalists in Hong Kong" compiled by the Overseas Public Relations Sub-division of the ISD.
     In general, registered subscribers of GNMIS can have access to Government press conferences or media events.  However, in actual practice it may not be possible for all qualified mass news media organisations to enter into the reporting venues owing to venue constraints and other limitations.  The Government will, after taking account of the relevant factors and circumstances of individual cases, make appropriate reporting arrangements so as to meet the needs of the media as far as possible, and facilitate the public to learn and understand the work of the Government through the media.
     There is no universally agreed and objective definition of "mass news media organisations".  In general they refer to those organisations whose principal business is regular reporting for general dissemination of original news to the public.  Such qualified mass news media organisations may receive government press releases and press invitations through the ISD's GNMIS.  Nevertheless, not every organisation which publishes information can subscribe to GNMIS.  For example, non-profit organisations, think tanks or interest groups which publish advocacy or publicity materials, instead of general news reports, would not be qualified.
     In recent years, the rapid advance in information technology has brought about profound changes to the media.  The prevalence of the Internet and social media platforms has substantially lowered the threshold for information dissemination.  In view of the vast number and diverse nature of online media platforms, we believe that the classification of these online platforms as "mass news media organisations" or otherwise would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.  There is also not a uniform or clear definition of online media in the society and in the industry.  In view of the above factors and limitations such as venue constraints, the ISD currently does not arrange for admission of online media for reporting.
     The admission of online media for reporting involves various considerations, and we must carefully consider the principles, implementation issues and feasibility of the relevant arrangements before reaching a decision.  Since the study on this matter is still ongoing, there will be implementation difficulties and disputes may arise if we use discretion to allow admission for certain online media organisations before completion of the study.  The ISD will therefore maintain the current reporting arrangements before completion of the study.
(3), (4) and (5) The Ombudsman released in early December 2016 investigation reports on two complaints concerning the reporting of Government media events by online media.  The ISD generally accepts the Ombudsman's recommendations and is reviewing the arrangements for admission of the media and the criteria for registration as a GNMIS user.
     The ISD fully recognises the rapid development and growing popularity of online media in recent years, and is studying the feasibility of allowing admission of online media for reporting.  The study includes comparative research into the practices and procedures of overseas jurisdictions and other organisations.  The ISD will strive to complete the above study as soon as practicable and will communicate with the industry on the outcome of the study.
Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:30
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