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Hong Kong Reporters: News Manager Downplays Violence

Ken Tsang, center, a member of a local pro-democracy political party, is carried by plainclothes police officers after a clash between protesters and police in an occupied area near the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Oct. 15, 2014.

While online video of Hong Kong police officers beating a handcuffed protester this week has gone viral in the Chinese territory, one major outlet's coverage of police misconduct and violence has come under fire from journalists.

In the past two days, dozens of journalists have signed open letters complaining about how captions accompanying footage of the beating were altered on the TVB News website.

More than 40 TVB journalists published an open letter to protest the edits, saying their managers removed references to police kicking and punching the activist; more than 80 other TVB employees later signed the letter.

Seven Hong Kong media unions and organizations, including the Hong Kong Journalists Association, have also issued a statement expressing full support for the TVB reporters.

They called on media to respect professional reports and not engage in self-censorship.

Bruce Lui, from the Independent Association of Commentators, tells VOA the reporters are taking a risk by speaking out.

"When they began to initiate this open letter, they had to psychologically prepare that they may get fired, but they still took the risk to do it," he said. "We used to have these kinds of debates, but this time it’s really quite obvious.”

According to a BBC news report, TVB News Director Keith Yuen has defended the alter the description of police violence, because the "incident was subject to a police investigation." Reports by both BBC and the Hong Kong Economic Journal describe Yuen as being opposed to demonstrators and supportive of the Chinese government.

Yuen said it was inappropriate to keep the text after receiving a complaint about coverage being slanted in favor or the demonstrators, adding that TVB's news department has always been "objective, impartial and fair."

Hong Kong police said Thursday that five officers suspected of involvement in the beating of the handcuffed protester have been suspended, and a criminal investigation team has been set up.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.