Newsmen targeted as protestors get violent

Connie Pang, Jackie Chan - Reporter

[Apr 2013 - The Journalist] As the political fault line in society gets deeper and wider violence is breaking out at once peaceful street protests. And journalists reporting from the front-lines, endeavouring to give the public truthful accounts, are getting squeezed in the middle. Two reporters from now TV were among the latest victims, roughed up as they reported a pro-CY Leung protest organised by the Caring Hong Kong Power before the New Year.

Who knows if there will be more such violence targeted at journalists in the future? Academics expressed concern over the safety of reporters as society gets more radical. Some members of the public may even blame journalists because they misunderstand the role the media plays.

now reporter Chau Chi-wing and cameraman Lau Ka-wo were attacked on Dec 30 last year while covering a rally in support of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Lau was assaulted while Chau had his pair of glasses grabbed, thrown to the ground and smashed by a group of 10 protesters. The attackers accused the television crew of asking questions biased against the administration.

Subsequently Paul Fan Che-ming, 61, a designer, was fined $1,500 after pleading guilty at the Eastern Court to a single count of assault. He was ordered to pay $1,000 in compensation to Lau. Caring Hong Kong Power’s convenor Chan Ching-sum, nicknamed “Chiu Chau Spicy Girl” refused to apologise, claiming she was uncertain about incident.

This assault against the now reporters was not the first attack on reporters covering protests. The most common type of interference with the media's work are attempts to obstruct reporters from carrying out their duty. This is violence in a different sense. In December 2005, as Hong Kong was hosting the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference, anti-globalisation protesters, including farmers from South Korea and local protesters, demonstrated in Wan Chai. They tried to break into the conference venue to stop the meeting from taking place. Mable Kwong, a TVB news reporter then, was kicked as demonstrators demanded that she take off a protective headwear.

Kwong said the company had arranged for all its reporters to use a protective hat and anti-poisoning face mask to avoid getting hurt if violence broke out. She said the majority of the reporters wore protective hat and she was one of them. “I had to protect myself. As it was impossible to see if anyone was attacking from the back, I took off the hat from time to time to get some fresh air, when there was no live broadcast to be made.”

The protesters did not have any6 strong feelings towards Kwong wearing such a hat. But when the 630 new segment started and Kwong was busy with live broadcast, a foreign protester interpreted the live broadcast and put up his protest board. When the live broadcast resumed two hours later, she put on her hat again before the live broadcast started. This time, she was kicked by local protesters. They shouted “Shame! You’re smearing us.”

She still gets angry when recalling the incident. She was particularly angry with protesters interrupting live broadcast. “Violence doesn’t necessary mean physical assault. Journalists are professionals, we know how to handle the information we receive for reporting. Grabbing my camera to deliver your message is an act of violence.”

Violence has become more widespread in recent years. It is no longer just about interrupting live broadcasts but also blocking the cameras, or even physical assaults. Kwong believes it is a result of society losing its diversity. “There is only right and wrong, society no longer accepts other views. The non-civilised choose violence in the face of a different point of view.”

At the height of the anti-high speed railway protest in January 2010, a number of protesters teased reporters. TVB news reporter Lam Chi-ho had his backpack set on fire after he finished reporting the protest at mid-night. Quite a number of TVB reporters, cameramen and engineers have been confronted by protestors.
Lam said incidents of this kind had replaced physical assault. He said there were protesters pouring water onto the ground as cameramen were packing up their filming equipment. Some protesters hurled foul language at reporters, to interfere with the recording of sound bites. He always reminds his colleagues that they should not shout back, or fight back. He said, “We should let them know we are here to work.” This is the best way to avoid falling into their trap.

Associate Professor of City University’s Applied Social Science Department Wong Shing-wing said that more and more people are demanding that reporters verify their identity and the media they work for before agreeing to be interviewed. Some would stop the reporters from doing their job if they found out the media organization held a different view on the issue. As there were many people in a protest, the collective behavior of some protesters may make the situation worse as the number of people involved might make some feel their action justified.

Chinese University journalism professor Clement So said although there were more protests in recent years, physical assaults against reporters were still rare. He said, “Reporters are like sandwiches, being squeezed in the middle,. As society gets more radical, some people may misunderstand reporters’ role. They get angry with the reporters when they hear questions they don’t like.”