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Press coverage by Internet news web sites
2014-01-22

LCQ6: Press coverage by Internet news web sites
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Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, in the Legislative Council today (January 22):

Question:

Some journalists from media organisations operating Internet news web sites (online media) have complained to me that government officers have repeatedly denied their coverage of public activities conducted by government departments, including press conferences, briefings and consultation sessions.  Also, the Information Services Department (ISD) has refused online media’s requests for registering with its News and Media Information System on grounds of limited capacity of the System, rendering them unable to receive press notices.  They have also pointed out that only representatives from mainstream news media organisations are allowed to apply for Central Government Offices (CGO) Press Cards.  As a result, journalists from online media may not enter CGO to carry out reporting duties.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of public activities conducted by the Government last year and, in respect of each activity, the average numbers of (i) people who could be accommodated in the press area(s), (ii) media organisations and their representatives attending the activity, and (iii) online media representatives who were denied access; the justifications of the Government for denying online media representatives’ access for coverage of the activities; the qualification requirements for news media to be granted access for coverage of the activities as well as the criteria for granting approval, and whether the Government will review such requirements and criteria; if it will not, of the reasons for that;

(b) of the maximum number of users that can be supported by the News and Media Information System of ISD as well as the respective numbers of users and media organisations currently registered with the System; the procedure for media organisations to apply for registration with the System and the time required, as well as the relevant expenses of the Government; whether it will upgrade the System to accommodate more users; if it will, of the expenditure involved and the timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given the provision in the media reporting arrangements in the Legislative Council (LegCo) Complex that if online media representatives can prove that their online news web sites have covered LegCo news or have interviewed LegCo Members, they may apply for Temporary Admission Passes for entering the Complex to carry out reporting duties, whether the Government will make reference to such an arrangement and improve the arrangements for online media representatives to enter CGO for carrying out reporting duties, so as not to hamper press freedom; if it will not, of the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

Attaching great importance to the functions of the media in its pursuit of “people-based” governance, the HKSAR Government spares no effort in disseminating governance-related information to the public through the mass media and strives to facilitate their news reporting work.

We understand that the rapid advance in information technology has brought about profound changes to the media.  With the threshold for creating a media platform substantially lowered by the prevalence of the Internet, almost everyone can set up a media website.  This, coupled with the fast and ever-changing development of social networking websites and the diverse means of online dissemination of information, has made it difficult to get hold of the exact number of such media.  Moreover, operating in different modes, such websites do not follow the traditional practice of the mainstream media.  As regards the “online media” mentioned by the Hon Mok, there is no universal or clear definition in the community.  The Government will pay close attention to the development of information technology and the changes of the media, thereby ensuring that media reporting arrangements can keep pace with times for the dissemination of information to the public in the most effective manner.  Meanwhile, the Government also makes use of the Internet for strengthening communication, such as uploading press releases, press photos and news clips of the Government to the GovHK one-stop portal for public access and browsing around the clock, live broadcast of the whole course of major press conferences on Government websites, and setting up of webcasting archives for the browsing of the press conferences and other news clips.

My reply to the three parts of the question raised by the Hon Charles Peter Mok is as follows:

(a) The news media are usually invited to cover public functions, including activities of the Chief Executive and principal government officials, public forums, promotional activities, and important international and local conferences, organised by the Government.  On top of that, activities such as visits to public facilities are organised exclusively for the media.  There are also press conferences to answer media enquiries whenever major policies and measures are announced or major incidents have occurred.  To meet the needs of the media as far as possible, government departments make arrangements for media reporting as deemed most appropriate, having taken into full account the overall situation, including capacity constraints, security requirements and on-site order.  As various activities are different in nature, scale and mode, and use different venues, the number of media representatives each could accommodate may not be the same.  Having said, government departments, in adhering to the principle of openness and transparency, will attend media interviews as far as possible for the purpose of enhancing public understanding of the work of the Government through media reporting.

We do not have statistics of the activities that are open for the media.  Generally speaking, those media who may cover the above-mentioned activities are media organisations engaged in news reporting, including:

(1) Registered Printed Newspapers and Periodicals
Newspapers and weekly news magazines registered with the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance (Cap. 268, Laws of Hong Kong), as well as their associated websites.

(2) Radio Stations
Government-funded radio broadcasters, and radio organisations that possess a Sound Broadcasting Licence granted under the Telecommunications Ordinance.

(3) Television Stations
Government-funded TV broadcasters, and commercial TV broadcasters that possess a Domestic Free Television Programme Service Licence or a Domestic Pay Television Programme Service Licence or a Non-domestic Television Programme Service Licence granted under the Broadcasting Ordinance; as well as organisations that possess the Fixed Telecommunications Network Services Licence, Fixed Carrier Licence or Unified Carrier Licence issued under the Telecommunications Ordinance.

(4) News Agencies
News agencies registered with the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration under the Registration of Local Newspapers Ordinance, as well as news agencies, newspapers, magazines and television/radio on the list of “Overseas Journalists in Hong Kong” compiled by the Overseas Public Relations Sub-division of the Information Services Department (ISD).

Regarding the “online media” mentioned by the Hon Mok, in the absence of a legally binding registration or licensing regime as in the case of the mainstream media, we are not in a position to distinguish among a wide range of “online media”, nor is it possible for us to grant access to all those which claim themselves as “online media” for on-the-spot reporting as far as practical arrangements are concerned.

(b) The registered or licensed mass media organisations mentioned above are users of the ISD’s Government News and Media Information System (GNMIS).  There are currently more than 100 registered media accounts and over 400 government department accounts in the GNMIS.  Launched in 2005, the system is approaching the end of its usable life and, under certain circumstances, may incur risks of overloading.  The ISD has commenced to renew the system, including re-designing its structure and enhancing its effectiveness, with a view to eliminating such risks as far as possible and make its service more effective and reliable.  Moreover, to facilitate the operation of the media sector, the ISD will also make available to media organisations additional downloadable client software to enable automatic downloading of press releases, press photos, annexes, news clips, etc.  In the designing processes, we will consider the need of increasing the number of system users.  The engineering works, which involve an expenditure of about $9.95 million, are expected to be completed next year.

Procedures for user registration of media organisations are generally completed within one week.  No fee is charged for such registration.

(c) The Government will continue with its efforts to facilitate media reporting and pay close attention to the latest development of online media portals.  Corresponding arrangements will also be reviewed from time to time with regard to the views of the relevant stakeholders and the practice of other organisations.  The ISD has drawn up the arrangements for journalists to enter Central Government Offices for carrying out reporting duties having regard to factors such as venue conditions.  Such arrangements have proven to be effective.  The ISD will continue to maintain contact with media organisations and relevant stakeholders to listen to their views on improvement of news reporting arrangements at any time.

Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Issued at HKT 15:12

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)