Hong Kong's black humour: The door is always open

Martin Lam - Reporter, Apple Daily 

[Mar 2012 - The Journalist] “People oriented, open and transparent, improve as required.”

That was the pledge Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen made when the new government headquarters at Tamar was completed in August last year. Raymond Tam, the then Director of the Chief Executive’s Office also pledged that communications between officials and the media would remain unchanged after the government moved into its new premises.

The government had equipped Tamar with more and better facilities for the media to do their work, Tam had also said.

Unfortunately, a reality check gives a completely different picture. In reality, the door is officially-oriented, always closed and the press is the enemy at the gates. And, so far, no media people have come across the promised “more and better equipment”, let alone use it.

In the old government headquarters on Government Hill, it took only half a minute to travel between East Wing and West Wing. Now reporters have to pass through a six-door passageway between the two wings.

Door always open has become black humour.

Hostility to the press doesn’t stop with the six-door passageway. In the old CGO, reporters could stay at the Main Wing when the Executive Council met every Tuesday. By standing in the hallway, reporters could see Exco members leaving the meeting and interview them.

Now there is no way for us to meet the Executive Councillors if they choose a restricted access which the press is not allowed into. While Exco members can reach their meeting chamber directly from an underground tunnel connecting to the car park, reporters have to wait outdoors. This arrangement does not only make us shiver in the chilly winter winds, it also leaves us out in the cold insofar as the movement and interviewing of Exco members are concerned.

The media were shown expensive signal transmission equipment for their use at the Chief Executive's office. But no one has been allowed to use the equipment. This is a sheer waste of public funds.

Another blank check

Apple Daily photographer Shing Kai Chung was attacked by security guards as he was taking photographs of Education Minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung. This demonstrated beyond any doubt the real official policy towards the media, and its closed-door operations.

Hostility towards the media press did not stop with the attack on Shing Kai Chung. One day after the assault on Shing, reporters were badly treated again. On January 11 reporters were banned from using the Chief Executive Office’s entrance as well as the entrance at the West Wing. Security guards blocked an Apply Daily photographer’s camera. As I argued with them, I was asked if I was a member of a triad society.

Chief Secretary Stephen Lam brushed aside the hostility by claiming “miscommunication”. But he was silent on the assault on Shing and whether the press could work without restrictions at the new CGO as before.

Other cases include, reporters having to get out of their press vehicles as they entered the West Wing. In order to reach the new CGO, reporters have to take a 10-minute walk from East Wing.
In the past, we could get into the government canteen easily for meals. Last month, we found out that our press cards no longer provided such access to the canteen. Only after we argued and complained to the security chief could we have lunch at the canteen.

Despite repeated complaints to the Director of Government Information Service and senior officials at the CE Office, the blame has been laid on “cross-department relations”. For the same reason, it seems, the government is still unable to arrange a meeting with the JA on this issue. I am afraid the promised meeting will be another blank cheque the government does not plan to cash in.