The “always open” doors of government headquarters remain shut

Ken Lui - Editorial Board Member of The Journalist

[中文] [Jul 2012 - The Journalist] The new Central Government Offices where “the door will always be open'' to the media have been in operation for six months. Yet those doors have yet to be fully opened to the media.

In fact, ever-tightening restrictions are the order of the day. So much so that the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, together with representatives of the electronic and print media have suggested ways to the Director of Administration Jennifer Mak and the Director of Information Services, Michael Wong, to resolve the problem

However, little has changed and reporters need to belt from the east wing to the west wing, through a long zigzag route, to get to the executive council and wherever the news is within the precincts of power.

Photographs of the Chief Executive can only be taken from outside the gates when he arrives for work. So much for that “open to the public” idea.

Reporters can only wait outside the Chief Executive's Office when they are covering the executive council meetings. This is totally different from the old practice at the Central Government Office where reporters could wait in the east wing.

Although HKJA had discussed with the government many times the
arrangements for reporters at the new CGO has not improved.
Reporters have to make detours even thought the government claims
that the "Door is always open". (Photograph courtesy of Ming Pao)
The media representatives also pointed out that there is a facility for the electronic media at the lobby of the Chief Executive's Office to transmit their material. But use of this facility is denied to other reporters.

Clearly the arrangements for the media have deteriorated since the government's shift from the old Central Government Offices to the new site.

The officers of Information Services Department claim that the present arrangements outside the Chief Executive Office is similar to rule that apply to Government House where reporters are not allowed in; they need to wait outside the gates.

But is it proper to compare arrangements and facilities for the media at the two places? Government House is where the chief executive lives. It is his private domain. The other is his working place, his office.

I believe that if the government (or the Chief Executive) puts the two places on the same footing then it just violates the claim that “the door will always be open.” It will simply be a joke. I sincerely hope that there will be reasonable and open arrangements for the media when the new Chief Executive takes office. Reporters could be allowed into the lobby of the Chief Executive's Office when the Executive Council sits.

As a matter of fact reporters were allowed to enter the Chief Executive's Office when Tsang Yam-kuen and Leung Chun-ying met in late March. There was no technical problem.

Information Services Department officers explained that only reporters who had been “invited'' could enter.

We have requested that the government include the lobby of the Chief Executive's Office in the conventional coverage area.

Another request from us is to open up the staff passage between the east wing and the west wing. Under the present arrangements, reporters are barred from using this passage which only takes 30 seconds to walk through the two wings.

Instead, reporters have to walk through the backdoor and through at least six other heavy doorways, a most inconvenient route especially for TV reporters who have to lug lots of heavy equipment.

The government says it will consider the suggestions of the media representatives. I believe that the poor arrangements have been intentionally designed by the government. It is because there are eight conventional rooms between the staff passage through the east and west wing, and the government may not want the reporters to interview the government officials and the guests.

There have been occasions when security personnel have intentionally blocked cameras in the course of interviews. But officials of the Administrative Wing say they have sent guidelines to the security personnel that they need to help the reporters cover news.