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Hong Kong Journalists Kicked Out of APEC After Questioning Philippine President

[The author of this post is a voluntary editor for the news site inmediahk.net, which is quoted multiple times in this report.]

Nine journalists from three media outlets in Hong Kong were kicked out from the venue of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali on October 6, 2013 after they questioned the Philippines president over the mishandling of the 2010 hostage tragedy which resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists.

The journalists asked President Benigno Aquino III if he would meet Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and apologize to the families of the victims. The Indonesian Communications Ministry official in charge of the media center for the APEC summit accused the reporters for “protesting” as they did not “speak normally”. Aquino’s communications secretary said the reporters had crossed an ethical boundary by aggressively questioning the president.

On the other hand, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalist Association Sham Yee-lan stressed that “it is a journalist's job to ask questions of public concern”, and that the barring of reporters for asking critical questions is an infringement of press freedom.

A group of journalists protest outside the Philippines Consulate. Photo from inmediahk.net

A group of journalists protest outside the Philippines Consulate. Photo from inmediahk.net

To make their position clear, the Journalist Association organized a protest in front of the Indonesian and Philippines consulates on October 8. Protestors chanted slogans, such as “I am asking, not screaming, OK?”; “We throw questions, not bombs”; “It is a journalist's job to ask”; and “Support journalists, shame on APEC”.

Chloe Lai, a former reporter and a current editor for citizen media platform inmediahk.net, attended the protest and explained in her commentary that the APEC's intention in evicting the journalists was to save face:

為了保護元首的面子,他們用嚴厲的手法,阻止記者繼續採訪,踐踏新聞自由。
記者是在酒店的走廊向行經的阿奎諾三世提問,當時阿奎諾有大批隨行人員在身邊,現場亦有保安人員把記者隔開。在這種情況下,記者要發問,當然要大聲提問,否則怎能引起對方注意?大聲提問是記者當時必須要做的,所以「大聲提問不合禮儀」,完全是只從總統先生的角度出發的藉口。

To save face for the president, they stopped the journalists from doing hard-hitting reporting and infringed on press freedom.

The journalists raised the questions to Aquino III in the corridor of the hotel, where he was surrounded by a large number of security guards. The hotel security staff barred the reporters from getting near. Under such circumstances, the reporters had to raise their voices to catch his attention. Such a move is necessary to fulfill the job of a journalist, and the accusation that “screaming the question is rude” is just to defend the nobleness of the president.

Lai also pointed out that both the Indonesian and Philippines government are typical examples of the Asian authoritative government model:

亞洲不少國家都是專制政權,政府貪污腐化,公民權利不受保障和尊重。當權者覺得記者和新聞是為權力服務,而不是監察權力。在某些國家,記者生命更隨時受威脅。印尼一名憲法法庭的法官最近被控貪污而停職。上星期他到有關部門接受問話時被大羣記者包圍,法官在聽到其中一名記者提問後,當眾打了記者一巴掌。記者說當時用法官以前對被控貪污人士的指責向這位法官發問。在菲律賓,兩個月前,在兩天內,三名記者被槍手開槍襲擊。菲律賓在無國界記者2013年新聞自由排行榜的179國家及地區中,排149。印尼排139。

Many countries in Asia are authoritative in nature, with corrupt governments and unprotected human rights. In these countries, the authorities expect journalists to serve them rather than monitor them, and in some cases journalists receive threats on their lives for their reports. Last week in Indonesia, a reporter was slapped in public by a judge because she raised a question concerning his involvement in a corruption case. Two months ago in the Philippines, three reporters were attacked with shot guns within two days. In Reporters Without Border's 2013 Press Freedom Index, among the 179 countries, the Philippines is ranked number 149 and Indonesia ranked 139.

As the APEC summit will be hosted in Hong Kong next year, Lai anticipated that Hong Kong police will fall in line with the heavy-handed style of APEC to repress protesters and restrict press freedom.

Tension mounted further when Aquino III refused to apologize to victims of the 2010 Manila hostage incident in his meeting with HK Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying on October 8 in Bali. On August 23 2010, a dismissed Philippine National Police officer hijacked a tourist bus carrying 21 Hong Kong tourists and 4 Filipinos in demand of a fair hearing on his dismissal. Negotiations broke down and the police arrested the hijacker's brother and thus incited him to open fire inside the bus and killed 8.

Some netizens turned their anger towards Chief Executive Leung. For example, on blog-hosting platform VJmedia, commenter “On Time Production” wrote:

阿基諾話政府無錯,梁振英你就停手唔追問下去?
阿基諾拒絕道歉的原因很簡單,就是政府都沒有做錯,為何要道歉?[...] 錯就錯在那個槍手而已。
聽到這樣的答案,所有香港人,都應該激到紮紮跳!明明兩年前菲律賓當局的調查報告,就指出由上而下,由市長到警方指揮官,再到那批特種部隊,都有做錯、有缺失,那個阿基諾竟然可以拋下政府沒做錯這樣的說話來玩弄香港人?作為香港特首的梁振英,你又有什麼回應?你有沒有即時引用菲方的調查報告,直斥其非?可惜的是,我們完全看不到你有這樣做。
[…] 會面前,你根本無做功課。當菲律賓總統在耍你和全香港人的時候,你卻沒有站出來,駁斥其歪理。如果你熟讀了那份調查報告,知道誰該為慘劇負上責任,你是絕對可以馬上反駁阿基諾的無恥言論。偏偏,連這些基本功課,你也沒做。你連勇敢站出來,保衛香港人的利益也完全沾不上邊。

Aquino said the [Philippine] government had done nothing wrong. How can you, CY Leung, take that as an answer and stop questioning?

The reason why Aquino refused to apologize is simple: because the government had done nothing wrong, why apologize? […] The gunman took all the blame.
An answer like that has outraged all of Hong Kong's people. Two years ago, even the Philippines’ official report pointed out a huge number of mistakes committed by a number of government personnels [who handed the hostage incident], including the [Manila] city mayor, the police chief and the special forces. How can Aquino play this trick on the Hong Kong people by saying that the government had done nothing wrong? As Hong Kong's chief executive, what is your response, CY Leung? Did you use the Philippines’ report to rebuke him? We did not see you do so.
[…] You didn't do your homework before the meeting. When the Philippines president played tricks on you and on the Hong Kong people, you did not stand up. Had you read the investigation report, you would know who should be responsible for the tragedy and you could rebuke Aquino's shameless talk. But you did not do this simple homework. You have shown no courage to defend the interests of the Hong Kong people.

To express their anger, some netizens set up a Facebook page calling on people in Hong Kong to boycott exports from the Philippines, including fruits and domestic workers. Political group People's Power [zh] even urged the government to impose visa restriction on Filipinos. Even though the suggestion is very unlikely to be implemented, the chief executive will face a round of public scrutiny for his apparent weakness in pursuing justice for the victims of the Manila hostage incident.

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