The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today vehemently criticized the decision of the Hong Kong Police to stop recognizing journalists not registered with the government.

The Hong Kong Police informed media organizations on September 22 that they would stop recognizing journalists who have been issued credentials by local media organizations and that only those media professionals either registered with the Hong Kong government’s Information Services Department or working for “internationally-known media groups” will be treated as journalists. The police did not specify who these groups would be.

The letter sent by the police said that they will amend the definition of media representative in the Police General Orders but did not say when this would happen.

“After the National Security Act stifled press freedom in Hong Kong, this decision of the police will cripple independent media outlets in the Special Administrative Region”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “Hong Kong has a well-functioning self-regulatory system in place to allocate credentials for media professionals and it’s not the role of the police to determine who is a jopurnalist.”

“The registration requirements will allow a state institution to decide who can have access to newsworthy events and information and operate as journalists.” .”

While the police claim that their decision was prompted by what they describe as ‘fake reporters’ turning up during protests and obstructing and attacking police officers, several journalists’ and media organizations have strongly opposed the move saying that for years there have been relevant guidelines in place for granting credentials to journalists.

In a joint statement the  Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Citizen News Staff Union, Independent Commentators Association, Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, Ming Pao Staff Association, Next Media Trade Union, RTHK Programme Staff Union, have said that the amendment would “allow authorities to decide who are reporters, which fundamentally changes the existing system in Hong Kong. It will be no different to an official accreditation system, which will seriously impede press freedom in Hong Kong, leading the city toward authoritarian rule.”

“We must point out that Article 27 of the Basic Law states clear protection for press freedom in Hong Kong. For years, freelance reporters and media outlets not registered with the government have made truthful reports to serve the wider public. The police must not use administrative means to censor the media and in doing so, harm the rights of Hongkongers”, the organizations said in the statement.

Press credentials are issued by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, which has 604 full members, all undergoing a strict self-regulatory vetting process.