Hong Kong news websites barred from government events

New York, December 15, 2016–Hong Kong’s government should grant news websites access to government events, press conferences, and press releases without further delay, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 6, Hong Kong’s Ombudsman, an independent agency that monitors public governance in Hong Kong, ruled that the ban on digital news outlets accessing government functions was unwarranted. In response, the Hong Kong government said it was conducting a review of the possibility of admitting online media, but did not specify when a decision would be made.

“Policies denying digital outlets access to government events and press releases are archaic and unfair, and are particularly absurd given Hong Kong’s highly connected, tech-savvy public,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program coordinator. “We welcome the Hong Kong government’s decision to review its policies and urge authorities to quickly facilitate online news media’s coverage of government events.”

Under the Hong Kong government’s current policy, reporters from online-only news outlets are barred from attending government events and press conferences, and have no access to the Hong Kong government’s online system where press notices are published. The Hong Kong government has cited capacity constraints and difficulties in defining “online media” as reasons for the restrictions.

The government in 2014 pledged to ensure news reporting policies were adapted to take into account changes in the media industry. In a statement dated December 2016, subsequently published by the Hong Kong Journalist Association on its Facebook page, the Ombudsman noted that the government “has not made any progress on the issue.”

A group of Hong Kong’s local online news outlets on December 7 issued a statement calling for reform. In May 2016, the Hong Kong Legislative Council stopped distinguishing news websites from other news sources and granted them permanent access to the legislative body.

The push to accredit online media comes as traditional news outlets in Hong Kong are subject to increasing influence by Beijing, according to CPJ research.