Letter to APEC

Text by Phyllis Tsang
Translated by Tony Cheung

Mr Michael Chapnick
Head of Communication and Public Affairs
14 November 2013

Dear Mr Chapnick

Re: Disqualification of some Hong Kong Journalists during the 2013 APEC Summit

  The unreasonable disqualification of some Hong Kong Journalists is undoubtedly a stain on the success of the 2013 APEC Summit.   None of us would want to see that from happening again.

  I understand from our recent meeting with Mr David Dodwell, Executive Director of Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Group, that you have been looking for recommendations for a better press arrangements for the coming meetings.
  We look forward to this.  However, any future planning must be built on correct understanding of the past.  A review of the Bali incident will shed light on the insufficiency of the current arrangements and the improvements that are needed.

   I am therefore writing to give you a factual account of the incident prepared from a series of interview with journalists affected and officials involved by the HKJA.  

1. The justification for disqualifying the Hong Kong press

  We have received no official explanation on the incident from neither the APEC Secretariat nor the Indonesian authorities despite our written request. 

  The only explanation is provided by Mr Gatot Dewa Broto, the Indonesian communications ministry official who is in charge of the Apec media centre, to the press on October 7, 2013.

  He said: “We deemed it improper for media to act that way, as they don’t talk normally but they were very demonstrative, like they were protesting.”  “So we did this (deactivation of the press accreditation) due to security concerns.” 

2. The so-called “out of the line” and “demonstrative” questioning of President Aquino

  Fact: On 6 October 2013, three Hong Kong journalists and a cameraman waited at the entrance to the APEC business leaders’ meeting for the arrival of Philippines President Aquino.  The president arrived with an escort of more than 15 subordinates.   At a distance of about six feet from the President, the journalists asked the following questions:

 Q1:Have you met CY Leung (Hong Kong Chief Executive)?
 Q2:Are you going to apologize to Hong Kong People for the hostage incident (which has  resulted in the killing of   eight Hong Kong residents)?
 Q3:So you are ignoring Hong Kong people, right?
 Q4:Can you give us an answer?
 Q5:It has been three years.  Can you give us an answer?

  President Aquino left without answering.  The journalists did not tail him but remained where they were.   While the tone of the questions reflected the culture and language of the Chinese-speaking journalists, the setting is far from being demonstrative.

  HKJA’s concern: What criteria will be employed by the APEC security authorities to define a media questioning as “out of the line”? 

3. The so-called Security Concern

  Fact: The questioning of President Aquino took place at the door step to a meeting room of the Bali International Conference Centre.   This is an area which is accessible to all accredited media.  The journalists have not entered any embargoed area.

  In fact, in the morning, the same group of journalists has questioned Premier Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore at exactly the same spot under the same setting.   None of the security officers present raised any issue with the journalists. 

  HKJA’s concern: What criteria will be employed by the APEC security authorities to define a press activity as a security threat? The location, the nature of the questions, or the feeling of the guest?

4. The Kick-out

  Fact: Ten minutes after President Aquino’s departure, a female officer confronted the journalists and snatched the press badge of one.  Without identifying herself, the officer shouted: “Do you understand decency includes no screaming?  Do you understand that?...Now out.”

  Another Indonesian official said: “You are ambushing one of our visitors.   That’s not the way.  Get out now.” He did not identify himself.  Two journalists on the spot identified him as Mr Wishnu Wardhara who is a member of Indonesian APEC ABAC and the Chairman of APEC CEO Summit.

  Several unidentified officers snatched the press badges and pushed the journalists into one of the shuttle buses outside without telling them the destination.   The journalists had no idea of their own safety until arriving at the media centre.

  HKJA’s concern: Who will be empowered to declare a journalist or a press activity as security threat and decide the following up action? It’s the security authorities, any guest present (like Mr Wardhana) or the APEC Secretariat? What procedures will be in place to ensure a fair and transparent handling of the journalist concerned? 

5. Who was punished?

  Fact: A journalist and a cameraman took part in the questioning of President Aquino.   An hour after the removal of their press badges, other journalists, cameramen and engineer of the Now TV also found their press badges invalid upon their entrance to the media centre.  No official explanation has been given to them.

  HKJA’s concern: When an individual is declared security concern and disqualified, under what criteria will the authority decide to apply the same penalty on others from the same media? Who is to decide?

6. The lack of redress
  The affected journalists immediately sought explanation and help from Mr Broto.  He said he had no idea of what had happened and how he could help.  He promised to try and left the journalists his mobile number.

  Repeated calls to his mobile have not been answered.  One of the journalists switched from an Indonesian number into a Hong Kong number and called Mr Broto again.   He picked up the phone.  Upon hearing the question, he said: “You have been disqualified from the APEC event.  There is nothing I can do for you.”  No official explanation for the disqualification has been given to the media affected.   Neither was there any appeal channel.  

  In a meeting with our representative, a senior official of the Hong Kong Government Information Service said his office has contacted the Indonesian Foreign Office to seek assistance and explanation.   The latter promised to “review” the incident but provided neither explanation nor assistance.

  The affected media had no idea that they had been declared “security concern” until the next morning when Mr Broto told a press meeting of their verdict. 

  HKJA’s concern: What procedures and criteria will be in place regarding the disqualification of a journalist and an organization from an APEC event to ensure it’s fair and transparent?  What redress mechanism will be there in case of unfair or improper disqualification?

7. The“Punishment”  

  Fact: Mr Broto told the press meeting: “They (the disqualified journalists) were free to remain in Bali, but could no longer access the media centre or venues being used for the summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.”

  The punishment went beyond that.   The morning after, several journalists found themselves tailed by Indonesian officials.   One of the journalists recalled how her driver refused to go until men on several unidentified motorbikes were ready.  Her vehicle was escorted by two unidentified motorbikes. 

  Several journalists were barred from entering their hotels at checkpoints.  Instead, a policeman told them a senior police officer wanted to meet them and took them to a police station.  After a three hours’ wait at the police station, a police officer told them they could no longer return to the hotel because it was a conference venue.  The officer did not identify himself.  The barred journalists were denied access to the hotel to regain their luggage.   
  HKJA’s concern: When an individual is declared a security concern, does it mean he or she will lose not just the press accreditation but also his or her personal freedom?

  I sincerely hope that the above account will give you a better understanding of the Bali incident.   The journalists were doing their job fully in line with the security rules and professional practice. 

  Their disqualification was the result of a chain of arbitrary decisions by the Indonesian authorities.   They have been arbitrary in calling the journalists a security concern and in determining the degree as well as the scope of the penalty.  Worst of all, there was no redress.   These are the issues to be addressed in the coming events.

  I understand the hosting country of each APEC summit is fully responsible for its security.  However, integrity of the Summit is for the APEC Secretariat to preserve. 

Thank you for your kind attention.   For further queries, please contact me at 852-2591 0692. 

Yours sincerely,

SHAM Yee Lan 
Hong Kong Journalists Association