Hong Kong Police Amend Their General Orders to Tighten Grip on the Media

Civil Rights Observer expresses concern over the Hong Kong police’s unilateral amendment to Chapter 39 “Police, Public and Media Relations” of Police General Orders (Note 1). The amendments include (1) tightening the definition of “media representatives”, and (2) ordering police officers to facilitate the work of media and not to block camera lenses only when doing so do not compromise operational efficiency.

By introducing such amendments, the Hong Kong Police Force is implementing a de facto media screening mechanism. Not only does it seriously undermine press freedom enshrined in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but also unreasonably obstructs the work of frontline journalists and increases their risks to personal safety and legal liability when performing their duties under the amendments.

The government has positive obligations to maintain a diverse media landscape by ensuring a safe environment for journalists. The UN Human Rights Committee stated that journalism is a function shared by a wide range of actors, including professional full-time reporters and analysts, as well as bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the internet or elsewhere. General systems of registration or licensing of journalists are incompatible with the ICCPR which specifies the restrictions must be legal and necessary (Note 2). Meanwhile, journalists should not be prohibited from entering conflict-affected locations or locations where there are allegations of human rights abuses, including to record and monitor actions of law enforcement officials during public assemblies (Note 3). They must not be met with reprisals, hostilities or other harassment.

The revision on “working with media representatives” is particularly concerning. Civil Rights Observer is of the view that the police should unconditionally facilitate the work of media, worrying that the new premise would allow the police officers to make unfavourable arrangements for the media or even to hinder journalists from recording for the sake of “operational efficiency”. Civil Rights Observer reiterates that the police should determine whether a person is a journalist or is conducting reporting activities based on one’s behaviour. The police already have sufficient powers to stop or arrest any person, including journalists, if they commit any unlawful acts at the scene.

According to Section 46 of the Police Force Ordinance, Police General Orders are formulated by the Commissioner of Police to administer the force. Civil Right Observer criticises the Commissioner of Police for being at variance with his promises. Despite verbally showing respect to the media and press freedom, he introduces orders tightening grip on the media. We urge the Commissioner to immediately rescind the amendments.

Note 1: Chapter 39 “Police, Public and Media Relations” of Police General Orders
After amendment https://www.police.gov.hk/info/doc/pgo/en/Epgo039.pdf
Before amendment https://web.archive.org/web/20200211222621/https://www.police.gov.hk/info/doc/pgo/en/Epgo039.pdf

Note 2: UN Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 34
https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf

Note 3: UN Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 37
https://undocs.org/CCPR/C/GC/37

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