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Friday, May 07, 2021

End in works for press 'privilege'

The press should enjoy "no privilege" when authorities tighten company search regulations to limit access to directors' information, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says.
The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau submitted a document to the Legislative Council on Monday, proposing to restrict the public from accessing the residential address and full identification numbers of directors and company secretaries through company registry searches.

Under the proposed inspection regime, only correspondence addresses and partial identification numbers of directors and company secretaries will be shown in searches.

The proposed regime has drawn opposition from the Hong Kong Journalists Association, saying such arrangements will cause serious damage to press freedom as it will narrow journalists' ability in investigative reports.

"I have emphasized that I do not see why journalists should hold special rights," Lam said yesterday at a media session before the Executive Council meeting. "It is regarded as a privilege when journalists can view what others can't."

The government plans to introduce subsidiary legislation for the regulation to the Legislative Council for negative vetting in May in an "enact first and deliberate later" approach. Once the legislation is gazetted, the new rules will be launched in three phases, during which protected data will be gradually shielded from public view.

The bureau said that there is an imminent need to protect personal data of company directors due to rising social concern, especially in the light of increased reported cases of doxxing and personal data misuse.

When asked if the government will balance the demands from journalists for the new arrangement, Lam said the existence of public registers is already an indication of balance.

"The existence of public registers already shows a balance to allow people in need to review information submitted to the government by companies, groups and individuals," Lam said. "However, a balance also has to be struck to protect their privacy."

On the issue of RTHK, after its director of broadcasting Patrick Li Pak-chuen, together with the editorial panel, pulled three programs due to "one-sided views and inaccuracies," Lam said RTHK is a public broadcaster and a government department that has to follow rules and regulations.

She added Li, as the broadcasting chief, has to be held responsible if any programs breach the rules and regulations of the Charter of RTHK.

"That's why he has to be very cautious and I have to recognize what he has done. Since taking office, he has been very conscientious and doing exactly what I expect from the broadcasting chief of RTHK," she said.

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