APEC host Indonesia yesterday denied stifling press freedom after withdrawing the credentials of nine Hong Kong journalists for shouting questions at Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, saying that they had posed a security threat.
Despite protests from Hong Kong’s main journalist group, an Aquino spokesman also said the journalists had “crossed the line” by aggressively questioning him about a hostage siege in Manila that left eight Hong Kongers dead in 2010.
“We deemed it improper for media to act that way, as they didn’t talk normally, but they were very demonstrative, like they were protesting,” said Gatot Dewa Broto, the Indonesian Ministry of Communications official in charge of the APEC media center in Bali.
“So we did this due to security concerns,” Broto said, adding that the press badges of nine Hong Kong journalists had been deactivated.
They were free to remain in Bali, but could no longer access the media center or venues being used for the summit, he added.
Hong Kong media said the journalists and technicians affected were from Now TV, RTHK and Commercial Radio.
As Aquino entered a meeting of APEC business leaders on Sunday, the reporters demanded to know whether he would meet Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) in Bali and apologize to the families of the hostage crisis victims.
Now TV footage shows the journalists shouting: “So you’re ignoring the Hong Kong people, right?” and “Have you met CY Leung,” as they tried to reach their microphones over Aquino’s entourage.
Aquino did not answer the questions and APEC staff then intervened to admonish the journalists, with one accusing the reporters of “ambushing one of our visitors,” the footage showed.
Hong Kong Journalists’ Association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan (岑倚蘭) said that Aquino’s government had “yet to provide a satisfactory explanation” for why the eight Hong Kongers had died in a botched police rescue and that the journalists in Bali were just doing their job.
“The barring of the media for asking critical questions is an outright infringement of press freedom that is totally unacceptable,” she said in a statement.
Now TV said its journalists were “only engaged in normal reporting duties” and urged intervention from the Hong Kong government, which is one of APEC’s 21 members.
There was no immediate comment on the incident from Hong Kong’s delegation at APEC, but Aquino spokesman Ricky Carandang said the reporters had crossed an ethical boundary.
“As a former journalist I know what it’s like to aggressively question a subject,” he told reporters in Bali.
“The behavior of these reporters crossed the line from mere questioning to heckling and was even construed by Indonesian security personnel assigned to the president as a potential physical threat to him,” Carandang added.