HK Time Out Magazine: Sharpened Elbows, Column #31

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Sharpened Elbows

When ‘scuffles’ break out on protest frontlines, it’s often difficult to tell whether it is provoked by frustrated activists or the police themselves. If it’s a high profile demonstration, protesters will sometimes find themselves outnumbered by police, undercover goons and a gaggle of photojournalists with sharp elbows. The latter are already somewhat notorious in the territory for snapping away at bloody accident scenes and, with many prepared to literally fight for the most sensational protest shots, their integrity remains in question.

Clement So, Director of Journalism at The Chinese University, says photojournalists getting “too involved” has always been an issue, since “HK reporters are aggressive and try to beat competition.” He agrees there are some bad apples but says that that should not render the whole journalistic community as subjective or taking sides. Despite this, I’ve had quite a few run-ins myself with forceful photographers who can be blamed for obstructing protesters and causing things to escalate.

On the one hand activists need the media to help keep the authorities accountable, and to raise awareness of the myriad issues at hand. However, much to the annoyance of the vast majority of peaceful campaigners, the press will inevitably detract from the real concerns and focus on the lowest-common-denominator angle of scuffles, should they break out. Worked up activists are also at fault, but journalists should at least maintain some professional integrity as passive observers rather than avidly diving into brawls.

Hongkongers who believe a reporter may have crossed the line can complain to the Press Council, Journalist’s Association or Photojournalist’s Association – all of whom hold their members responsible with clear codes of practice.