NUSA DUA - APEC host Indonesia on Monday denied stifling press freedom after withdrawing the credentials of nine Hong Kong journalists for shouting questions at the Philippine leader, insisting they had posed a security threat.
Despite protests from Hong Kong's main journalist group, President Benigno Aquino's spokesman also said the journalists had "crossed the line" by aggressively questioning Aquino about a hostage siege in Manila that left eight Hong Kong people 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 communications ministry official in charge of the media centre in Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
"So we did this due to security concerns," he told AFP, 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 centre or venues being used for the summit.
Hong Kong media said the journalists and technicians were from Now TV, RTHK and Commercial Radio.
A journalist at Now TV said three of its reporters were briefly detained by Indonesian police following the incident.
"They were detained for four hours Monday afternoon. There were three of them, including one text reporter and two cameramen, being detained," Daphne Lo, senior reporter of Now TV, told AFP.
As Aquino entered a meeting of APEC business leaders on Sunday, the reporters demanded to know whether he would meet Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying in Bali and apologise to the families of the hostage crisis victims.
Now TV footage showed the journalists shouting "So you're ignoring the Hong Kong people, right?" and "Have you met CY Leung" as they tried to extend their microphones over Aquino's entourage.
He did not answer the questions, and APEC staff then intervened to admonish the journalists.
Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, said Aquino's government had "yet to provide a satisfactory explanation" for why the eight Hong Kongers had died in a botched police rescue and the journalists in Bali were 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.
One reporter whose pass was invalidated said the action was unwarranted.
"We didn't do anything that violated the rules. Their behaviour was just unreasonable," Tiffany Hon Chuen, a reporter for Now TV, told AFP.
But Aquino's spokesman Ricky Carandang said the reporters had crossed an ethical boundary.
"The behaviour 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," he said.
Another presidential spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said the removal of the reporters' badges was a decision by the Indonesian authorities.
"I'm not aware if we requested it. We are guests so the feeling of the Indonesians was that their guests were rudely treated that's why they made that decision," he said.