GIS: How to meet with the media depends on what purpose is to be served

Pauline Ling - Assistant Director, Government Information Services

The Journalist asked the Director of Information Services Department to respond to the worrying trend of replacing open press conference with closed door briefings. Questions were set out detail with reference to fairness and how improvements can be made. The following is the full reply (except the first paragraph is moved out) from Pauline Ling, the Assistant Director, answering on behalf of the Director on 21st June, 2010.

To enhance public understanding of government policies, measures, activities and services, we (the GIS) issue press releases, provide information on government homepages and arrange officials to attend radio and television public affairs programmes. For the media, we organise press conferences, background briefings, interviews, visits and public functions.

In general, we will arrange for a press conference when there is a major announcement. We will also issue a press release and arrange for officials to give further explanations on radio and TV programmes. All these activities are open and attributable.

A media briefing is usually organised to report progress on certain policy areas. For example, we may organise a media briefing after an information paper is issued to a panel of the Legislative Council to help reporters understand some technical points. Media briefings are generally held in an open manner.

At the same time, the media may wish to know more about how a policy is formulated and the various considerations behind it. We will organise background briefings for officials to exchange views with members of the media. In general, views exchanged at these sessions are non-attributable. This, I understand, is an accepted media practice that is also adopted in other countries.

I wish to stress that press conferences and background briefings are two different types of media activities held for different purposes. They complement each other. It is the duty of government officers to explain their policies to the public. In addition to a press conference or a media briefing, officers will also make use of other platforms such as a meeting of a Legislative Council Panel or a TV/radio public affairs programme to further explain the subject. Through these activities, the public and the media will be able to get a comprehensive understanding of government policies.

I hope the above clarifies our existing practices. I wish to reiterate our support for an open and transparent government. I shall be pleased to listen to any suggestion from the Hong Kong Journalists Association on how to enhance our co-operation.