After a protest by a freelance journalist forced the early adjournment of a regular police briefing last week, six reporters from different news media outlets staged a silent protest on Monday, prompting police to cancel the regular press conference.
The journalists wore helmets with Chinese characters that together read, “Investigate police brutality, stop police lies.” They wanted to protest the arrest of two media representatives covering the clashes between police and protesters over the weekend, and show their discontent over officers who repeatedly targeted them in the operations.
After about half an hour had elapsed, the six journalists still refused to leave the venue despite having been asked to do so multiple times. As a result, the police simply canceled the press briefing and instead released information through a live webcast.
It is said that the sudden walkout by senior police officers hosting the press briefing and its subsequent cancellation have raised quite a lot of eyebrows in the government, especially among press officers who felt that law enforcement was being a bit too across-the-board this time.
They feared that the cancellation of the press briefing on Monday may further undermine the relations between the police and the press, which have been deteriorating in recent months.
The cancellation also raised concerns that other government departments may adopt the same approach under similar circumstances in their own press conferences in the days ahead.
According to a source familiar with the matter, the walkout during the press briefing was purely a decision made by the police management, which didn’t discuss it with the Security Bureau beforehand.
In fact, it wasn’t until after the press briefing had been called off that the Security Bureau learned about it.
A seasoned government press officer said Monday’s incident wasn’t actually the first time that journalists staged a protest during a press conference held by the authorities, and it was a scene that the administration certainly didn’t want to see.
The press officer said that as long as the reporters staging the protest didn’t interrupt government officials or disrupt the press conference, authorities would generally not take the first step to stop it, let alone call off the event.
Meanwhile, we have spoken with a number of government press officers on how they think the police have been performing during the daily press briefings over the last couple of months.
While they unanimously agreed that it is fair enough for senior police officers to spend some time explaining the details of operations and the number of arrests made the previous day, along with other matters, they just couldn’t understand why they have to spend almost 10 minutes at the beginning of each briefing “playing back news footage” of the operations, thereby reducing the time for the question-and-answer session.
On the other hand, a source within the police force strongly defended the way the bosses handled the situation on Monday, saying there is nothing wrong with canceling the press briefing because the protesting reporters did violate the code of conduct during such an event.
The source said allowing reporters to put up protest signs during the daily press briefing would only embolden them, and the result is that they might try to go further the next time around.
Another police officer complained that throughout the anti-extradition bill saga, the Police Public Relations Branch has been simply left to its own devices in dealing with the press, with the Information Services Department having provided no support whatsoever.
In our view, the police might be justified in being aggressive and confrontational when facing protesters on the streets.
Yet the fact that the police appear to be equally confrontational towards journalists at the daily press briefing may inevitably raise doubts as to whether they are truly sincere in accepting public oversight.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 5
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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