Message from Keith
Should the Hong Kong government register journalists and issue them an official press card?
This question of journalist accreditation was first broached by police officials who complained that some Hong Kong protesters were posing as reporters, with yellow vests and helmets falsely labelled, "PRESS." They complained the riot police had no way to tell real working reporters from those they deemed "fake journalists."
Journalist organisations, media outlets and journalism educators sounded the alarm, warning that any accreditation system was likely to be abused, handing the government to power to decide who was a real journalist and who was not. Chief Executive Carrie Lam was pressed to make a statement on October 19 denying any plans for a centralised registration system.
But Lam also said she had no plans to withdraw the ill-conceived, much despised China extradition bill—a few weeks before she withdrew it. So her statement saying there were "no plans" has been met with suspicion.
Proponents of a press accreditation system say legitimate journalists have no cause for concern, since the practice is common in many other countries, around the region and in many Western democracies. That much is true.
When I landed in Manila for my first foreign posting as a bureau chief for The Washington Post, I was issued a colourful yellow and blue press card that allowed me to enter Malacañang presidential palace, the foreign ministry, and the Philippine military headquarters in Quezon City. Traveling anywhere in the country, that press card opened doors—governors, mayors, provincial warlords, local military commanders and even Communist rebels and army mutineers all recognised the press card and gave me access and interviews.
France had a journalist card issued annually by a section of the French foreign ministry. It was a straightforward affair—I brought a letter from the home office, and was handed this card with my photo and the French tricolour, that allowed me to stroll into the Élysée Palace or cross police lines during any protest march. One added benefit; reporters with a valid press card could enter any national museum without charge—and not just in France, throughout the European Union.