LCQ16: Policy on coverage of government events by online media

     â€‹Following is a question by the Hon Claudia Mo and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):

     The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) lodged a complaint with the Office of The Ombudsman (the Office) on the 7th of June last year that on the same day, the Information Services Department (ISD) had denied access by journalists from a number of online media to the media centre for the Election Committee Subsector Elections to conduct news coverage.  HKJA published a press release on the 6th of December last year, stating that the Office had indicated in its reply that the complaint was substantiated, and that the Office had called on the Government to expeditiously revise its press policy and the related guidelines.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that ISD had refused to allow online media journalists to conduct the aforesaid news coverage on grounds of "the need to ensure smooth running of events" and "security needs", of ISD's concrete information and evidence which showed that allowing news coverage by online media journalists at that time would render the event not running smoothly and pose security risks;

(2)whether ISD has, at present, made a clear definition of a mass media organisation; if ISD has, of the details;

(3) given that the persons-in-charge of some online media have pointed out that ISD had refused to issue to online media press notices of government events on grounds of "limited server capacity", of the specifics about the limited capacity of the server concerned (including the capacity of the server at the relevant time, and additional server capacity needed for the authorities to issue press notices to online media);

(4) given that the authorities undertook at a Legislative Council meeting three years ago that it would ensure its press policy dovetailing with the development pace of the press sector, whether the authorities have taken new measures in this respect so far; if they have, of the details; and

(5) whether the authorities have plans to discuss with the press sector in the near future to expeditiously formulate a set of criteria for determining which online media should be allowed to cover government events; if they do, 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 Claudia Mo'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, including registered printed newspapers and periodicals, news agencies, licensed television stations and licensed radio stations. 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, ISD currently does not arrange for admission of online media for reporting.
(3) The GNMIS of ISD completed a revamp last year.  As a result, the system's capacity has been enhanced, enabling it to better meet the existing and future demand. 
(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 13:00