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IFJ urges Fire Services Department to review media policy

(IFJ/IFEX) - February 22, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) in expressing its disappointment that the Fire Services Department of Hong Kong refuses to introduce the real-time release of information to the media.

IFJ has learned that HKJA representatives met with the Fire Services Department on February 20 to express their concerns about the Department's adequate release of information to the media since the Department's systems changed from analogue to digital on February 20.

In Hong Kong, the Fire Services Department is responsible for fighting fires, conducting land and sea rescues and providing emergency ambulance services. According to statistics provided by the HKJA, the Department released information on an average of 212 cases per day between February 14 and 15, 2012. This is thought to represent only 10 per cent of the average number of cases received by the media per day in the previous year. HKJA also discovered examples where the Department delayed releasing information about ongoing risks to the public, including a case where the murder of a security guard went unreported for a significant period of time.

The IFJ and HKJA have also previously criticised the Hong Kong Hospital Authority and Police for their failure to promptly release information.

During the meeting with the HKJA, the Fire Services Department not only refused the HKJA's request to release information in real-time, but also revealed that the Department only releases information on calls requesting ambulances where the incident involves eight people or more.

"The need to respect individuals' privacy is very important, but not to the extent that it compromises the public's safety", IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said.

"Reports from the HKJA that the delayed release of information by Hong Kong's Fire Services Department may have endangered people's safety are a cause for genuine concern.

The IFJ urges the Department to respect the duty of the media to report cases of public interest, and improve the speed at which information is released to them.

The IFJ also urges the Security Bureau of Hong Kong to discuss with the Fire Services Department the need to review the existing system of public reporting, to ensure the protection of people's safety and their rights to access to information".

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