Thursday, 21 September 2023

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HKMO hails landmark ruling for press freedom, calls for greater transparency in China

The Hong Kong Overseas Media (HKMO), an international association of journalists formerly based in Hong Kong, celebrates the Court of Final Appeal’s unanimous decision on June 5th to overturn the previous charges against journalist Bao Choy Yuk Ling, marking a pivotal victory for press freedom in the region.

Choy had been found guilty in April 2021 on two counts of “making false statements” under the Road Traffic Ordinance. Her supposed offense was searching government records for vehicle registration data tied to the notorious 2019 Yuen Long mob attack.

This recent verdict, however, found that Choy’s usage of the information for ‘bona fide’ journalism did not constitute any ‘false statement’.

The Court of Final Appeal described Choy’s initial conviction as a “substantial and grave injustice,” a statement that has been warmly received by press freedom advocates, journalist representative bodies, and Choy’s family. They gathered to celebrate the decision outside the court, symbolizing a hopeful moment for the restoration of media freedom in Hong Kong.

However, the victory comes amidst ongoing challenges for Hong Kong’s journalists. Over the past two years, media professionals have lost access to crucial tools for investigative reporting, including the vehicle register.

A recent government arrangement allows company directors’ information to be obscured, posing significant hurdles to transparency and undermining Hong Kong’s status as a major financial centre.

This issue is not isolated to Hong Kong. There is a growing tendency in Mainland China to suppress the free flow of information.

The Chinese government recently broadened the “Anti-Spyware Law” to protect all documents, data, and objects relating to national security and interests.

Moreover, mainland information company, “Wind Information”, ceased its service for clients outside China to access its database of registered companies due to regulatory requirements.

These developments underscore an increased risk associated with independent information gathering in China, including routine tasks such as company due diligence.

Joseph Ngan, the Chairman of the HKMO, urged the Chinese and Hong Kong SAR governments to respect journalists’ legitimate rights to access basic information. He warned that “moves to restrict the free flow of information undermine the right of the general public to know what is happening in society.”

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