ISD now going strong on pooling – at last minute

The Journalist

[Oct 2012 - The Journalist] All journalists are familiar with the term “pool arrangement.” It simply means a handful of media people to represent the entire press corps. The news material gathered is shared equally within the industry. In Hong Kong “pooling” is usually confined to photographers from newspapers and/or cameramen from television stations. Whenever there is a pool arrangement, the Information Services Department of the government will inform the photo departments and news editors directly.

The Journalist interviewed some editors to better understand this pool arrangement.

Robert Ng, assistant photo editor of South China Morning Post said he did not know which media outlets were on the ISD's list. "We are not sure which company joined the pool team previously. Sometimes we are selected frequently in a short period of time, sometimes we are not selected at all."

However he noted that since Leung Chun-ying took office as Chief Executive in July, the ISD has called for pool arrangements at the very last minute, unlike previously when ISD would inform editors at least one day before the event. For example, they would call the selected media at 11 am if a pool is to be arranged at 2 pm that day.

According to Ng, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam visited the grassroot citizens living in cubicle apartments and sub-divided flats on August 16. The pool arrangement for this visit was called on that day as well.

Ng said he complained to the information office because it was difficult to assign a photographer to join the pool team. The information officer apologised to Ng after his complaint. But if the pool arrangement is related to mainland leaders the pool team is informed about the gathering time and finishing time only, "We would not even be told if the function would be in Kowloon or on Hong Kong Island." Ng said.

Another situation is that the media may interview the official later and only the pool team cameraman/photographer could follow the official for the visit. Ng said that even if he told journalist colleagues about the event, the official would not allow the journalist to join in.

Deputy assignment editor, Billy Ko of nowTV said if the government decided to invite a television station to join the pool team, the officer would call the newsroom directly. Ko believes that the pool arrangement of Leung's administration is much better than Donald Tsang's because most government officials' functions of this nature were carried out solely by the ISD's crew. Inspection on the cross boundary arrangements for students was a good example.

"Before Donald Tsang's departure, this inspection would be recorded by the ISD and all of the media could only use the official clip, which sometimes is mute." But the media got invited by the government to join the pool team when the Secretary of Education, Eddie Ng Hak-kim inspected the cross border arrangements in early September this year.

Actually, whether or not the clip comes with sound is very important. Ko said that when the China's gold medallists from the London Olympics visited Hong Kong in August this year, if we only watched the silent official clip, we would not have been able to hear Leung Chun-ying being corrected by the deputy director of the central government's liaison office Li Gang because Leung called the head of general administration of sports, Liu Peng as the director, but Lu pointed out that “minister” was the correct designation.

But Ko also complained that the pool arrangements were usually made in a hurry. He gave the instance of the plastic pellets incident which occurred in August. He was informed by the ISD that the pool team should gather an hour later at the pier. Ko said he complained to the ISD whenever such arrangements were not adequate or were unacceptable.

Secrecy surrounds mainland officials

The Information Services Department calls for a pool arrangement whenever the venue of an official's visit or interview is not spacious enough to allow all media to join in. Usually one cameraman of a television station and one photographer of a newspaper would be invited to join the pool team. The video clip and photos would be distributed to other news outlets afterwards.

There are two types of pool arrangements. If visiting Mainland officials are involved ISD will not inform the pool member the where and what of occasion. Mainlanders are simply surrounded in secrecy. The journalists may gather at the Harbour Building (the former Murray Building) first and travel to the destination by a special bus. If the inspection involves only local officials only, the reporters and photographers usually go to the destination by themselves.

The pool photographer normally chooses four to five photos immediately after the inspection and quickly email these photos to other newspapers. All newspapers may only use these photos the next day. It is the practice that the pool photographer does not keep any photograph as exclusive to itself or delay sending the photos to other agencies. The photographer and his/her company are blamed if other outlets get them late.

Pooling video clip is more complicated than photos. The pool cameraman needs to feed the whole clip back to the newsroom first. Then the newsroom has to transfer the clip to RTHK who are responsible for providing the clip to all electronic media at the same time. This ensures that all broadcasting stations edit the clip together and the outlet whose cameraman attended the function cannot take any advantage.

Table: Pool press events since July 2012
Pool Team Member
1 July
President Hu meets CE

President Hu meets executive legislature and judiciary of the Fourth Term Government
9 July
CE visits community centre in Tai Po
12 July
CE visits Ocean Park Polar Adventure
Phoenix TV, Oriental Daily News(ODN)
24 July
CE inspects situation after typhoon in Sheung Wan and Central
Cable TV
26 July
CS and SLW visits food bank
27 July
CS visits Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Kwong Wah Hospital (Two Pool Coverage)
Appledaily, TVB, Phoenix TV, ODN
31 July
CE attends reception in celebration of founding of People’s Liberation Army
now, Sing Tao(ST)
1 Aug
CS visits Tin Shui Wai
Cable TV, SCMP
2 Aug
CS and SLW visits Yau Ma Tei
3 Aug
CE hosts appreciation reception
now, Hong Kong Daily News(HKDN)
5 Aug
CE and SLW inspect commencement of second phase of Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme
TVB, Ming Pao(MP)
6 Aug
SEN visits Sham Wan
HKET, Cable TV

SFH visits Ma Wan and Cheung Sha Wan Fish Culture Zone
Appledaily, Phoenix TV

FEHD staff collected fish samples from some fish stalls at Ngau Tau Kok Market
ATV, Oriental Daily News
8 Aug
CS inspects Chi Ma Wan
9 Aug
CS visits persons with disabilities
10 Aug
Delegation of the Tinagong-1/Shenzhou-9 manned space docking and rendezvous mission attends welcome dinner(CE meeting Delegation)
Cable TV, MP, AP

Delegation of the Tinagong-1/Shenzhou-9 manned space docking and rendezvous mission arrives in Hong Kong(at airbridge)
Phoenix TV, HKET
12 Aug
Delegation of the Tinagong-1/Shenzhou-9 manned space docking and rendezvous mission tours The Peak
ATV, Appledaily
13 Aug
Delegation of the Tinagong-1/Shenzhou-9 manned space docking and rendezvous mission briefed on major developments on Waterfront(Cruise)
now, ODN

Delegation of the Tinagong-1/Shenzhou-9 manned space docking and rendezvous mission concludes visit to Hong Kong(Farewell at Governor House)
14 Aug
CE visits the Hong Kong Tuberculosis Association Chinese Medicine Clinic cum Training Centre
Phoenix TV, SCMP
16 Aug
CS visits Sham Shui Po
Cable TV, ODN
20 Aug
CS tours the City Gallery
21 Aug
CE visits a footbridge crossing Connaught Road West near Eastern Street
now, ST
22 Aug
SFH visits a local chicken farm and the Hospital Authority Infectious Disease Centre
23 Aug
SLW visits Hung Hom
Phoenix TV, Apple Daily
24 Aug
CE visits Lok Ma Chau Control Point
Cable TV, SCMP

CE attends the welcoming reception for delegation of London Olympics’ Mainland gold medallists
27 Aug
CS visits the Hong Kong Single Parents Association
now, HKDN
29 Aug
CS visits Hong Kong Unison
30 Aug
CS visits Heep Hong Society Mary Wong Centre
3 Sept
SED visits Lok Ma Chau
Phoenix TV, HKET
6 Sept
CE visits the new Cruise Terminal Building
Cable TV, HKET
8 Sept
Secretary for Security visits Lo Wu Control Point
now, ODN

SLW: Secretary for Labour and Welfare
SEN: Secretary for Environment
SFH: Secretary for Food and Health
FEHD: Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
SED: Secretary of Education