The Hong Kong Overseas Media (HKMO) welcomes today’s rare legal decision to protect freedom of information, which will allow journalists and media practitioners to continue effectively monitoring government, officials, and the community through an effective and legal vehicle registration search tool.
The Court of Final Appeal ruling follows the conviction of Bao Choy Yuk-Ling, a former producer for the public broadcaster RTHK who was found guilty in 2021 of making a false statement when applying to the Transport Department for a vehicle registration details as part of her report on the 7.21 attack by Triad gangsters attacking citizens in Yuen Long.
Although today’s ruling cleared Bao Choy over licence registration searches, sadly, in the past two years not only have Hong Kong journalists and media lost the vehicle register as a tool for investigative reporting, but two years ago the government implemented a new arrangement for company registers, allowing directors’ information to be withheld. Correspondence addresses can be used instead of residential addresses, and only the first three digits of director’s identity cards need to be disclosed. This allows major shareholders of listed companies to conceal their identities and connected transactions. It undermines Hong Kong’s status as a major financial centre.
The growing tendency to suppress the free flow of information reflects an even more ominous trend in Mainland China. In early May, the Chinese government amended the “Anti-Spyware Law” to include the protection of all “documents, data, information, and objects relating to national security and interests”, which is much broader than the previous scope of “state secrets and intelligence”. The mainland information company “Wind Information” recently stopped allowing clients outside of China to use its platform to access its database of registered companies. The company said the change was mainly due to regulatory requirements.
These developments send a general signal that the risks of independent information gathering have increased significantly in China, even for relatively routine tasks such as conducting “due diligence” on companies.
Joseph Ngan, the Chairman of the Hong Kong Overseas Media, called on the Chinese and Hong Kong SAR governments to respect the legitimate right of journalists to access basic information. He said, “moves to restrict the free flow of information undermine the right of the general public to know what is happening in society.”
The HKMO is an international association of journalists previously based in Hong Kong who are campaigning for the restoration of media freedom and provides a network of mutual support for the exiled media community.
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