In a blow to Hong Kong’s press freedom, the Hong Kong police have announced new accreditation rules for media in the city.
Authorities have taken the new measures after complaints of ‘fake reporters’ infiltrating protests and covering demonstrations.
In a shock announcement, the Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA) were included.
Hundreds of members are registered with the respective associations, with press identification previously considered acceptable by the police force.
Online media, freelancers and student journalists are likely to be affected most.
In June , Beijing implemented a National Security Law, prohibiting secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign collusion. The moves prom,pted many critics to suggest China had violated the 'one country, two systems agreement it thrashed out with the UK when the former British colony was handed over.
Due to the pandemic and the National Security Law, there have been fewer demonstrations in the city. Protester numbers have also reduced, with thousands under investigation following arrest.
As demonstrations have become smaller, local press numbers have often outweighed the number of protesters. With tensions high in the city, reporters and police have clashed.
Police argue the reporters are 'unaccredited' and 'fake' and have actively taken part in demonstrations.
In a letter sent to the Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) on September 22nd, Chief Superintendent of Police Kenneth Kwok defined “media representatives” as “reporters, photographers and television crews” whilst outlining the necessary policy for journalists to report in the city.
Those who wish to report have to show proof of identity issued by local media agencies registered with the Government or by “internationally recognised and reputable non-local news agencies.”
The FCC’s responded with a letter of its own last week, stating the new rule “undercuts the local journalist organisations whose membership cards have been routinely recognised and respected.”
“How can the police on the ground determine which ones are “internationally recognised” and deserving to be legitimate?” it asked.
Several Hong Kong press unions and associations responded with a joint statement stating they “strongly oppose the police’s hasty decision.”
But Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported that Kwok defended his decision, saying the accreditation system is “fair and objective”.
It comes as press freedoms within the former British colony have continued to deteriorate over the past 12 months.
In August, police raided the Apple Daily’s headquarters, as Jimmy Lai was arrested on charges of foreign collusion. Then in May, during a demonstration in Mongkok, local reporters were ordered to kneel and stop filming by the police force.
And almost one year ago to the day on September 29th 2019, Hong Kong saw its worst assaults on journalists as several reporters were injured during clashes between protesters and police. One journalist from Indonesia was blinded by a stray rubber bullet fired by Hong Kong police, whilst other journalists were also hit by tear gas canisters and pepper spray.
With Beijing’s National Security Law upon Hong Kong in effect since June - prohibiting secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion - journalists have been worried at ‘crossing the red line’.
Reporters have found themselves having to protect their sources more than ever, quoting many as "anonymous"in fear of retribution under the new law.
Before this new policy, Hong Kong languished in 80th place on the Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, down from 48th place since 2009. China currently sits 177th, and if Hong Kong continues its bit-by-bit crackdown on the media, the semi-autonomous region will very likely find the slide in the rankings will only continue. .
- Asia Media Centre