Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said her government will allow online media to attend its press conferences if they meet minimum standards of “professionalism.” At least ten online media outlets are expected to receive recognition, which will probably take effect this month.
“We hail this decision, which is obviously a step in the right direction,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “Still treating news websites as second-class media is unthinkable in the 21st century when they respect all the journalistic criteria such as independence, critical distance and using a variety of sources.”
The decision, which Lam promised in her election programme, seems to have resolved a long-standing wrangle between the government and the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA), which has had the backing of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong and many press freedom organizations such as RSF.
Everything depends on the criteria used by the authorities to grant recognition to individual online media. So far the authorities have only talked vaguely of deciding on a “reasonable, fair and practical” basis.
“We hope the new rules will create a fair, level playing field for all media,” said Tom Grundy, the editor of Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), an online newspaper. Shirley Yam, the convener of HKJA’s press freedom committee, said they will “monitor the implementation of its accreditation policy.”
As Hong Kong has become more and more polarized between “pro-Beijing” and “pro-independence” camps in recent years, its media have been the subject of growing interference by the Chinese authorities (see the RSF report entitled “Beijing’s invisible hand on Hong Kong’s media”).
In response, a handful of independent media outlets have appeared online. They include the English-language HKFP and such Chinese-language outlets as inMedia, HK 01, The Initium, Post 852, Stand News and Citizen News.
The refusal to grant accreditation to these new media outlets had been widely seen as intended to intimidate media that were often critical of the government and its links with the Chinese authorities. Hong Kong has fallen steadily in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, from 18th in 2002 to 73rd this year.