Date
21 October 2019
Black-clad journalists and press freedom supporters stage a march to the police headquarters in Wan Chai on Sunday to denounce police treatment of media representatives during protests. Photo: Reuters
Black-clad journalists and press freedom supporters stage a march to the police headquarters in Wan Chai on Sunday to denounce police treatment of media representatives during protests. Photo: Reuters

Why some journalists join anti-extradition bill protests

Chan Ho-wai, a reporter at Commercial Radio, knows exactly what “adding insult to injury” means. He experienced it twice while covering the protests against the extradition bill.

Last Sunday, Chan was given an unsolicited dose of pepper spray as he was covering the pandemonium at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin.

It was complete chaos as umbrellas rained down from above and metals and other objects flew every which way while protesters and police engaged in running battles inside the mall.

The violence of the scene reminded him of some action movie he had seen, except that it was real – and surreal, as it was happening in the place where people were supposed to be shopping and enjoying the weekend.

Then riot police charged and fired pepper spray at him. One officer told him not to use a towel to wipe off the sting.

He identified himself as a journalist, and showed them his ID card, which was prominently displayed, but instead of saying sorry, another officer rebuked him: “It is you journalists who make society chaotic!”

Those in the media industry would probably think that the occasional violence and insults come with the territory – call them hazards of the trade.

You place yourself in the thick of the action to be able to tell your viewers and listeners exactly what is happening, and sometimes, God forbid, you get caught in the crossfire.

But what is hard to accept is that those who uphold the law, those who are supposed to know what is right and what is wrong, think of you as an enemy.

Chan experienced the same verbal abuse from police officers while he was covering the clashes between police and protesters in Admiralty on June 12, days after a million people poured took to the streets to oppose the legislative proposal.

His employer Commercial Radio uploaded a video showing police pushing one of its reporters several times, even after he had identified himself as a journalist. One angry officer shouted at him: “F— your mother, journalist!”

Indeed, the physical and verbal hurt that journalists suffer while performing their duties is there for the whole world to see.

I am not sure if that explains why some journalists join the protests even when they are not covering the event.

First of all, they are also Hong Kong citizens, and they have the right to express their views and sentiments about the extradition bill and related issues.

They join the marches and rallies not as journalists but as ordinary citizens.

They also probably feel that they are unfairly treated by the police when they are performing their duties.

Perhaps it can also be said that the police feel pretty much the same way – that they are unfairly treated by media.

Whenever there are confrontations with protesters, they are portrayed as the villains, the ones who are responsible for the outbreak of violence, the ones who use excessive force.

According to this line of thinking, media representatives always have the last say. They may not have batons or tear gas at their disposal, but they possess a more powerful weapon, words.

This is what could shape public opinion, portray you as hero or heel, push up or pull down your ratings.

They can hound you and bombard you with questions, just as they continue to ask beleaguered Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, every time she faces the media, if she would set up an independent commission of inquiry, scrap the extradition bill altogether, whether she would step down.

And so this hostility between police and media is likely to persist as the extradition bill saga continues to rage.

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CG

EJ Insight writer