LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2064/95-96
Ref : CB2/PL/IP
LegCo Panel on Information Policy
Minutes of Special Meeting held on
Friday, 12 July 1996 at 10:45 a.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Counci Building
Members Present :
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing (Chairman)
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG CHIEN Chi-lien, CBE, ISO, JP
Members Absent :
Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai
Members Attending :
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Public Officer in Attendance :
- Mr Clifford CHAN
- Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
Attendance by Invitation :
- Foreign Correspondents Club
- Mr Francis Moriarty
- Chairman, Press Freedom Subcommittee
- Dr Jonathan Mirsky
- Member, Press Freedom Subcommittee
- Hong Kong Chinese Press Association
- Mr HUE Pue-ying
- Hong Kong Federation of Journalists
- Mr CHAN Kin-ming
- Mr CHENG Kwong-ying
- Hong Kong Journalists Association
- Miss LAI Pui-yee, Carol
- Mr FONG So
- Ethics Committee Member
- Hong Kong News Executives Association
- Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen
- Mr Raymond WONG
- The Society of Hong Kong Publishers Ltd
- Mr Jack Maisano
- Chairman of Government Relations Subcommittee
Staff in Attendance :
- Mrs Justina LAM
- Assistant Secretary General 2
- Mr Raymond LAM
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6
The Chairman stated that arising from the recent incidents on the petition of Members of the Coalition Against the Provisional Legislature to Beijing and the false report published in a magazine, the purpose of the special meeting was to gauge the views of press/journalists associations on (a) difficulties faced by local journalist working in China; and (b) measures to reinforce public confidence in the media. It was not a public hearing, as reported by some media.
I. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1851/95-96, CB(1) 1776/95-96 and Appendix IV to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1808/95-96)
2. Members noted the Administrations consultation paper on "Regulation of obscene and indecent materials transmitted through the Internet" (issued vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1851/95-96) and agreed that a joint meeting with the Recreation and Culture Panel would be held on Monday, 22 July 1996 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the paper. Representatives of the Administration, the Internet community, and the Hong Kong Development and Strategic Research Centre would be invited to the meeting.
3. Members also noted a paper from Economic Services Branch on "Calling Number Display" (LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1776/95-96 and Appendix IV to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1808/95-96) and agreed that the public was in general support of the proposals, hence it would not be necessary to discuss the paper.
II. Meeting with the press associations
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1848/95-96 and Appendix II to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1808/95-96)
4. The Chairman welcomed representatives of press/journalistic associations to the meeting and reminded them that they were not covered by the LegCo Powers and Privileges Ordinance, which applied to LegCo Members only.
(A) Difficulties faced by local journalists working in China
5. Members noted that invitations to the meeting had been extended, through media organisations, to reporters who had been temporarily detained in Beijing in relation to the recent incident on the petition of members of the Coalition Against the Provisional Legislature (the incident), but they were unable to come.
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)
6. Miss Carol LAI stated that HKJA had met some of the reporters involved in the incident and received written submissions on the issue. The views could be summarised as follows :
- The press/journalistic associations should press for the Chinese Governments lifting of all reporting restrictions for Hong Kong journalists on assignments in China.
- The employers of reporters had no contingency plan to ensure the safety of journalists in China.
- Some reporters were worried that such incident might affect their personal trips to China in future.
7. On the question of employers effort to rescue detained journalists, Mr FONG So stated that HKJA would contact the employers and draw their attention to the protection of detained journalists in such incidents. Nevertheless, the problem would have to be solved by the employers themselves. Miss Carol LAI added that some reporters felt that in performing their reporting duties, they had been unwillingly dragged into political dispute.
Hong Kong News Executives Association (HKNEA)
8. Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen expressed the Associations regret at the incident. He stated that the incident reflected the different perception of press freedom between Hong Kong and China. He informed Members that the Executive Committee of HKNEA had, during its visit to China two months ago, reflected its concerns over post-1997 press freedom in Hong Kong under the principle of "one country, two systems". HKNEA called for China to lift all the reporting restrictions on Hong Kong journalists to facilitate their work. At the same time, he hoped that Hong Kong reporters should also realise that China had a different perception of press freedom and therefore observe its rules whilst on assignments there.
9. As regards making prior reporting application with China, Mr Raymond WONG stated that it was practically difficult to submit prior applications, as an application normally took 15 days to process. On the question of employers effort to rescue detained journalists, he stated that employers were very concerned about the safety of journalists. They would not take any step that would jeopardise the safety of employees. Whether a confrontational or back channel approach should be adopted depended on the circumstances of each individual case.
The Society of Hong Kong Publishers Ltd (SHKP)
10. Mr Jack Maisano stated that, due to short notice, there was not enough time for SHKP to coordinate particular views on the incident. He reiterated SHKPs policy of supporting the right of journalists to exercise their trade, wherever they might be.
Hong Kong Federation of Journalists (HKFJ)
11. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr CHAN Kin-ming briefed Members on the objectives of the newly formed HKFJ and presented its submission. He stated that while HKFJ supported lifting all reporting restrictions in the long term, journalists should abide by the restrictions as long as they existed. In Hong Kong, there were also some restrictions which reporters had to observe, e.g. reporting on ICAC cases. Superiors of reporters should be more considerate. In practice, the restrictions in China also served as guidelines to reporters, as they spelt out what reporters should avoid. As the political systems in China and Hong Kong were quite different, it was inappropriate to use the incident to portrait the future picture of press freedom in Hong Kong. He added that public figures such as LegCo Members had a leading role in the community and should therefore avoid drastic or inappropriate actions because reporters might inadvertently follow suit in discharging their duties. In response to the Chairman, he stated that some members of HKFJ did report on the incident at Beijing. But no complaints had been received from its members on the incident.
12. As regards making prior reporting application with China, Mr CHAN Kin-ming stated that there was adequate time on this occasion for the media to make prior applications. To his knowledge, there were previous occasions on which urgent applications were submitted to and approved by the Chinese authorities within a short period.
13. In response to Mr Andrew CHENGs question on how the press could avoid becoming a political propaganda device, he stated that the press should report in a fair and objective manner.
Hong Kong Chinese Press Association (HKCPA)
14. Mr HUE Pue-ying stated that the incident arose from difference in political systems and legislation between Hong Kong and China. Although there had been slight reduction in the reporting restrictions on Hong Kong journalists (from seven to six) since their introduction in 1989, HKCPA called for their total abolition. Before such restrictions were abolished, he hoped that China would adopt flexibility in processing urgent reporting applications arising from sudden and unforeseen incidents. There should also be more understanding and communication between parties concerned.
15. On the question of employers effort in rescuing detained journalists, he stated that employers were very concerned about the safety of their journalists. They would make every effort to rescue their employees.
Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC)
16. Mr Francis Moriarty presented the salient points of the submission tabled at the meeting (Appendix A to the minutes) and informed Members that the Board of FCC did not have sufficient time to discuss the issue. In his capacity as Chairman of the Press Freedom Subcommittee of FCC and a FCC Board member elected by local journalists, he stated that it was encouraging to hear of general support for lifting all reporting restrictions on Hong Kong journalists working in China. He added that as reporters were only discharging their job duties, they should not be forced to take a side or sign confessions. The incident had a negative effect on the confidence of media organisations and international investors in Hong Kong. He informed Members that some media organisations were carefully considering whether they should relocate to other Asian countries. Dr Jonathan Mirsky added that there was substantial difference between Hong Kong and Chinas perception of the rule of the press. The Chinese Government perceived the press as a political propaganda device. The non-attendance of reporters involved in the incident at this meeting reflected the actual state of affairs because they would need to continue working under such difficult circumstances. The Chairman added that, from private conversation with some reporters concerned, it was understood that they were under pressure and were afraid of being black-listed by China. As regards Mrs Elizabeth WONGs question on how the gap between China and Hong Kongs perception of press freedom could be narrowed, he stated that the gap would be very difficult to narrow, as the laws of the two places were quite different.
17. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung remarked that the journalists who were detained in Beijing should be respected for their discharging of reporting duties under difficult circumstances.
18. Mr Bruce LIU commented that the community should be understanding towards journalists who signed confessions, as it was only a technical formality required prior to their release from detention.
19. Members agreed to write to the Governor expressing the Panels deep concern about the difficulties faced by journalists working in China.
(Post-meeting note : The letter to the Governor was sent on 16 July 1996 and the Governors reply had been issued vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1932/95-96)
20. The Chairman suggested that the Panel might consider discussing the issue again at a future meeting.
(B) Measures to reinforce public confidence in the media
21. The Chairman invited the views of attending press/journalists associations on the consequence of the false report published in a magazine (the false report incident) and measures that should be taken to reinforce public confidence in the media.
The Society of Hong Kong Publishers Ltd
22. Mr Jack Maisano stated that SHKP considered it unnecessary to establish a body to monitor the media. Existing legislation were adequate to cope with incidents like the recent one involving false report.
Hong Kong News Executives Association
23. Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen commented that false report in the media was unacceptable and furthermore harmful to media creditability. However, media creditability, which was accumulated over a long period, would not totally collapse as a result of one incident. The false report incident had drawn media attention to their professional conduct and the market-oriented approach of media production. HKNEA considered it inappropriate to establish a monitoring press council, as it might result in control of the press. Instead, more training should be provided for journalists to enhance their awareness of professional conduct. The existing form of mutual monitoring in the media should be maintained. Mr Raymond WONG added that ethical value of the top management and the culture of a media organisation had important influence on professional conduct of its staff. Extensive proof-reading and gate-keeping were fundamental to a news organisation. Training in journalism, which was offered by four universities/colleges, would help to promote professional conduct in the media.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
24. Mr FONG So commented that the false report incident was an isolated one. Besides individual reporters, editors should also be held responsible for such an incident. Besides the valued judgment of operators, it also hinged on the ethics and culture of a media organisation. Gate-keeping in the media was important. In addition to false reports, the HKJA had also received complaints relating to professional conduct, biased reporting, and obscene contents. All these had a negative effect on the creditability of media. He presented the following views on professional conduct in the media :
- Public attention would help to foster a monitoring effect on the media.
- On-the-job training should be provided for journalists. Media organisations should encourage their staff to attend training courses.
- Press/journalistic associations should formulate code of practice and establish channels for complaints.
- The media should establish readers columns for victims of false reports to air their responses.
- HKJA considered it unnecessary to establish a monitoring press council, as yardsticks on professional conduct were difficult to establish. Such council would add to the unstable elements in the industry. Other monitoring mechanisms should be explored.
Hong Kong Federation of Journalists
25. Mr CHAN Kin-ming stated that while the false report incident was an isolated one, it revealed a need to re-consider the market-oriented approach in media production. Exaggeration and fabrication of news should be avoided. The media should aim at providing accurate and comprehensive information to the public. He added that steps should be taken to enhance the awareness of professional conduct among the media.
Hong Kong Chinese Press Association
26. Mr HUE Pue-ying commented that the false report incident would have a long term negative effect on the creditability of the media. Besides the reporter and editor, the operator should also be held responsible for the incident. He added that the market-oriented approach in media production would, in the long term, undermine media creditability. More on-the-job training should be provided to journalists and they should be released for such training.
27. Mr HUE stated that there was no need to establish a press council, as the recent incident was an isolated one and existing legislation was adequate. The establishment of a press council might possibly affect press freedom.
Foreign Correspondents Club
28. Mr Francis Moriarty stated that with regard to monitoring, the best way was to allow a large number of free press so that balanced views were maintained. As regards libel, he stated that there were people who abuse libel by getting stories into print and keeping stories out of print. He suggested the Panel to review the laws on libel.
29. Mrs Selina CHOW stated that while she was not suggesting the enactment of legislation to monitor the press, some form of monitoring mechanism was necessary. She respected the independence of the media and recognised some peoples worries that a monitoring body might result in control of the press after 1997, but a fair and neutral press was also important. The industry should at least establish a mechanism to receive complaints and draw objective conclusions. She recalled her experience as a victim of false reports in the media. She had lodged her complaint with a number of press/journalists associations, but had not received any response besides acknowledgments. Many victims remained silent because they did not know how or have the ability to complain, or they were afraid of further victimisation. Even if corrections were made, the correction columns in newspapers were usually too inconspicuous to be noticed.
30. In response, Mr FONG So shared Mrs CHOWs views on the need of a monitoring mechanism, but considered that a decentralised mechanism was more appropriate for the media. HKJA had already established a mechanism to receive complaints and issued code of practice to its members. While there were suggestions to set up a prosecution fund, it was more appropriate to consider the views of the industry and the legal profession before arriving at any conclusion. With regard to Mrs Selina CHOWs complaint, a report of HKJAs Ethics Committee would be forwarded to the Executive Committee. He expected a reply to be sent to Mrs CHOW in one or two days. Miss Carol LAI added that the usual difficulty in dealing with complaints was that many organisations were unwilling to provide information requested by HKJA. Nevertheless, HKJA publicisied statistics on complaints. Where consent was sought from the complainant, details and conclusions of complaint cases were also publicised. Mr YEUNG Kam-kuen added that, in view of the diversity of the industry, there might be practical difficulties in operating a monitoring mechanism. It would be very difficult to establish yardsticks agreeable by all media organisations. It was also difficult to weigh personal privacy against the publics right of access to information. He went on to say that monitoring bodies had been tried in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom without much success. Establishment of such a body might lead to control of the press. Self-discipline and public-monitoring would be more effective. HKNEA accepted complaints and considered every complaint carefully. In this connection, it had considered Mrs Selina CHOWs complaint and a reply would be sent out shortly. Mr Francis Moriarty suggested that the media might follow a US newspapers practice to create a "wall of shame" to display the mistakes of the previous day and the names of reporters/editors concerned. Mr HUE Pue-ying stated that HKCPA did not have a mechanism to receive complaints and it did not consider such mechanism to be effective. Mr CHAN Kin-ming stated that while the HKFJ did not have a mechanism to receive complaints, it would look into ways of monitoring professional conduct. Mr Jack Maisano stated that SHKP did not have a mechanism to receive complaints. Complaints received would be referred to the relevant members of SHKP.
31. Mrs Selina CHOW further suggested that the principle of allowing equal space for letters to the editors should be included in the code of practice/conduct of the press. It was noted that only HKJA and SHKP had code of practice. The Chairman requested press/journalistic associations to consider Mrs CHOWs suggestion.
(Post-meeting note : The code of conduct provided subsequently by SHKP was issued vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1947/95-96)
32. Mr Bruce LIU commented that editors had a responsibility in the accuracy of their production. The media should look into mechanisms to ensure accuracy and genuineness of information. Mr Raymond WONG echoed that gate-keeping was a fundamental principle in accurate reporting.
33. Mr Andrew CHENG stated that the public should be made aware of mechanisms to receive complaints against the press. Conclusions of investigations should also be announced.
34. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung opined that complaints by workers within the industry might be useful for the proper development of the press.
35. The meeting ended at 1:10 p.m.
5 September 1996
Last Updated on 20 Aug, 1998