Riot police (L) deploy pepper spray toward journalists (R) as protesters gathered for a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. (AFP / Dale De La Rey)

Misleading claim circulates in Hong Kong about government-issued press passes

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A graphic shared hundreds of times in multiple posts on Facebook in Hong Kong contains a claim that government-issued press credentials are required in China, the UK, the US and Singapore. The posts, which circulated during Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, suggest the territory should also make it mandatory for journalists to obtain government-issued press passes. The claim is misleading; among the countries listed in the graphic, only China requires journalists to have government-issued press passes.

The graphic was published here on Facebook on May 13, 2020. It has been shared more than 300 times.

A screenshot, taken on July 20, 2020, of the misleading post.

The traditional-Chinese graphic translates to English as: “How did the scabbiest profession develop?/ A 13-year-old child claimed to be a journalist in Hong Kong; many countries' press cards are issued by their government./ Hong Kong journalists’ credibility got lowered.”

The post goes on to suggest that journalists in China, Singapore, the UK and the US can only operate if they obtain government-issued press passes. It suggests Hong Kong should adopt the same system.

The graphic reads: “China - journalists are required to take an examination and have to receive tertiary education;

“Singapore - news agencies are restricted by the Broadcast Act, and they could issue their own press passes;

“UK - all press passes are issued by the United Kingdom Press Pass Authority; 

“US - the state government issues press passes to journalists. Journalists have to submit the company’s reference letter and personal information to the police station, as for freelancers, they have to submit reference letters from three media agencies.”

The post’s caption translates as: “Realtors, security guards and insurancers all need a liason, why don't the journalists need one as well?” 

The post circulated three days after Hong Kong police removed two teenage volunteer reporters from a pro-democracy demonstration on May 10, 2020, as reported here by Hong Kong Free Press.

Some Facebook users appeared to be misled by the claim, posting comments such as: “[Hong Kong] should learn from the UK and US to have their government-issued press cards, in this case, those yellow-ribbons [pro-democracy] parties will be speechless. Even if they do, they will find it self-contradictory” and “it’s best to learn from the UK and US”. 

Screenshots, taken on July 31, 2020, of the comments under the misleading post.

The same graphic was shared here and here on Facebook in July 2020 with a similar claim. It has also been shared here, here, here, here, here and here with a similar claim.

The claim, however, is misleading.

The countries listed in the graphic do not require journalists to have government-issued press cards, with the exception of China.

Singapore

The Singaporean government issues Press Accreditation Cards (PAC) to journalists to grant them access to government information and events. According to the Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information's guidelines, however, journalists are not required to obtain a PAC in order to work in Singapore.

While some media in Singapore is restricted by the Broadcast Act, the legislation does not mandate the distribution of press cards.

United Kingdom

The UK Press Pass Authority issues press credentials in the UK, but the organisation is wholly owned and collectively controlled by major UK media organisations -- not the government.

The UKPPA states that press cards give no authority or privileges, but they can be used as identification to give journalists “access beyond that afforded to the general public."

United States

In the United States, journalists are not required to acquire government-issued press credentials.

Many news organisations issue their own press cards in order to give their staff better access to newsworthy events, especially related to government matters. As noted by the US Department of Justice here and the US Department of State here, press passes issued by news outlets are acceptable forms of identification to gain access to news events. 

Press freedom

Multiple journalism groups also rebuffed the misleading graphic’s call for Hong Kong to begin mandating government-issued press cards. 

“It is totally unacceptable that a government would decide who is or is not a journalist,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told AFP by email on July 30, 2020. 

Citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights, RSF also emphasised the importance of press freedoms and citizens' access to unbiased information.

RSF said that China, which does require government-issued press credentials, has one of the most restrictive media environments in the world. The country is currently ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Chris Yeung, head of the Hong Kong Journalist Association, also refuted the graphic’s claim about government-issued press cards ensuring integrity.

"Credibility of the media has no direct relations with the issue of who issues press cards. To say so is misleading,” he told AFP in an email on July 30, 2020.

The misleading claim made in the graphic was also debunked by Hong Kong fact checking organisations Factcheck Lab and Kauyim

Hong Kong protests