Hong Kong gives journalists Olympic freedom

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HONG KONG -- With the 2008 Beijing Olympics just seven months away, Tsang Tak-sing, Hong Kong secretary for home affairs, pledged Wednesday to maintain the government's support of overseas news media.

Unlike the rest of China, overseas journalists are not required to obtain accreditation in Hong Kong, which will host the equestrian events during the Olympics.

Foreign journalists in Hong Kong enjoy a larger degree of freedom than those working in China since the Special Administrative Region does not impose a mandatory registration system.

"In line with our policy of freedom of press, overseas media organizations are free to conduct business in Hong Kong," Tsang told lawmakers, "Hong Kong's role as an information center is an important condition that goes hand in hand with Hong Kong's development as an international financial center." Media companies only need to apply for a business registration certificate in order to set up an office.

He also cited the efforts of the Information Services Department to facilitate foreign journalists based in or visiting the territory to go into China, such as arranging interviews with senior officials from policy bureaus in the Pearl River Delta Region in south China and organizing visiting programs.

However, Francis Moriarty, head of the press freedom committee of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent's Club, said that Tsang has missed an important issue foreign journalists have to face. The movement of Hong Kong-based overseas journalists, he said, is restricted due to a special visa arrangement that requires non-local journalists to apply for a visa every time they go into China.

"By contrast, if you are a journalist based in Shanghai or Beijing, once you have your accreditation in China, you can move around China," Moriarty told The Hollywood Reporter. "It is a time-consuming and expensive process, a serious impediment to foreign journalists based in Hong Kong."

The visa application costs HK$900 ($115), and the cost adds up for non-local journalists who travel to China 25-30 times a year. The news companies sensitive to these and related expenses have left Hong Kong and set up offices in China.

"This is a serious issue that the Hong Kong government needs to address," Moriarty said.

The number of foreign journalists coming to work in Hong Kong has leveled off over the past few years. According to contact lists from the Information Services Department, as of Jan. 1, there were 314 overseas and Chinese journalists working for 115 non-local Hong Kong-based media organizations, of which 103 are from overseas and 12 from China. The number of foreign journalists remains the same as in 2007.
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