16 November 2018
The threshold for setting up an onlne media outlet is very low. All it takes is a computer and an internet connection. YouTube
The threshold for setting up an onlne media outlet is very low. All it takes is a computer and an internet connection. YouTube

Carrie Lam planning to lift ban on web-based media

Under former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, the government banned web-based media from attending all official events and press conferences.

However, new Chief Executive Carrie Lam appears to be a lot more receptive to web-based media. She vowed to treat them with an “open and tolerant attitude” during her election campaign.

According to government sources, Lam has a plan to lift the ban on web-based media and has ordered the Information Services Department (ISD) to study the matter and make the necessary arrangements.

It is said that ISD officials have been having difficulty trying to work things out because they have found that allowing web-based media to attend government events and press conferences could give rise to a lot of technical issues, not to mention that it would be very difficult to please everybody and meet all the requirements of internet media outlets.

For example, unlike traditional “brick-and-mortar” media outlets such as television networks and newspapers, the threshold for starting an online media outlet is very low: all it takes is a laptop computer or a tablet, plus a smartphone, and everybody can start their own web-based media outlet.

The ISD has found that it could cause serious security problems if everyone who claims to be an online media reporter is allowed into government events or press conferences.

To address this concern, the ISD is studying the feasibility of imposing certain limits on web-based media.

One possible option is that in the future, only decent-sized internet media outlets that focus on news coverage rather than promoting political ideas would be allowed to attend government events and press conferences in order to prevent political groups posing as online media reporters from slipping into the venues and causing trouble such as staging protests.

However, sources said ISD officials admitted that such distinction between decent-sized and one-man web-based media outlets, no matter how the criteria are set, is likely to draw criticism.

Even though the Legislative Council secretariat has already allowed online media outlets into Legco, ISD officials said the government can’t directly replicate its experience because it is a lot easier for the Legco secretariat to arrange for web-based media outlets to cover news since it has to take into account the Legco building only.

As for the recent judicial review application filed by a university student newspaper over the government ban on their reporters in the Legco by-election last year, officials said whatever the court decision, it won’t affect their “open door policy” toward web-based media because student newspapers and internet media are “fundamentally different”.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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