Need for Detailed Guidelines on Gifts to News Gatherers

The Journalist

In spite of everything the mass media remains the main source of information for Hong Kong people. How journalists present an event can make a big difference to reader's perception. That's why interviewees and public relations agencies or companies try hard to show goodwill to reporters or build up good working relations with reporters.

In order to prevent potential conflicts of interest, a code of conduct in this regard was set by our predecessors. Otherwise, we may be influenced by the 'overdone' goodwill of the interviewees and PR personnel and fail in reporting professionally. The credibility of the news media will be damaged as a result.

The Journalist talked to some media managements, news editors and reporters and tried to understand the current practice in the industry. As we see it, most media do distribute handbooks which list the rules recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) (see the article written by Phyllis Tsang) which prohibits employees, i.e., journalists in this case, from taking advantages with their work. However, few details are included. Reporters need to decide for themselves whether it is appropriate to accept "gifts" by their own conscience.

Some mass media, like Television Broadcast Limited (TVB) invites ICAC officers annually to give a talk to new employees from different department. However, such talk is not tailor-made for reporters and there are doubts about their relevance.

For news media like Ming Pao Daily News and Sing Tao News Corporation Ltd., there is not even a handbook for reporters. According to management, reporters can always ask for the rules or clarify it with senior colleagues if they wished to. Also, senior colleagues will regularly remind fresh reporters.

Normal standards
Are the guidelines from the ICAC enough to keep the reporters on the right track? Some senior management personnel seem confident of their frontline staff. now TV senior vice president Cheung Chi-kong believes that all reporters know that they should not receive advantages. He said, "No need to teach them. All reporters know!"

However, we think that it is necessary for the discussion and promulgation of rules in detail.

As we understand it, most media cap the face value of a gift that can be received by a reporter at $500. If the face value of a gift exceeds $500, a reporter is expected to report it to the supervisor and return the gift to the giver. If returning the gift is impossible, the gift will be donated to a charity organization and the receipt will be addressed to the gift giver. By doing so, the giver will be acknowledged that the reporter has not receive his/her "goodwill" and remind him/her not to offer gift again in the future.

Compared with some foreign media, the cap of $500 is quite 'generous' indeed. For example, according to the guidelines of The Guardian, the upper limit is 25 pounds (about HKD$300), and gifts are required to be returned or donated to charity if this limit is exceeded. The Associated Press (AP) is even more stringent. It puts a cap at 25 US dollars (under $200).