Journalist groups oppose limiting news workers’ access to Companies Register

2021.06.11

Eight journalist groups are asking the government to exempt media workers from its plan to limit public access to Hong Kong’s official business database.

A joint industry petition is underway to change the proposal before it becomes law, whereupon limited access would be granted to company directors’ addresses, identity card numbers and other information stored on the Companies Register.

The petitioning groups said the plan would hinder investigative journalism and freedom of the press. “The function of the media in monitoring society and [upholding] people’s right to know will be adversely affected,” they said in the joint statement.

The eight groups that have signed the appeal include the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, the Independent Commentators Association, the Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, and the staff unions of Next Digital and several other news organizations. Next Digital is the publisher of Apple Daily.

Officials believe that the legal amendments, proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, are necessary to rein in the practice of doxxing. They say that the public release of personal information to cause nuisance has become rampant in recent years.

But the journalist groups said reporters should be allowed continued access for the benefit of public interest, and added that the government had ignored their concerns.

“The government… has turned a deaf ear to our voices,” the joint statement said.

“According to media reports, the government will move to widen the scope of ‘specified persons’ in the ordinance to include some sectors including banking and finance and accounting involved in anti-money laundering. Those ‘specified persons’ will be given access to company data. The voices of the media sector have again been ignored.”

Business groups have also weighed in. The International Chamber of Commerce has recently said the proposal will reduce the transparency of local business operations.

A former head of the register, Gordon William Ewing Jones, wrote in a newspaper commentary that the plan could harm the city’s reputation and image as an international financial center.

Journalists can sign the petition by 7 p.m. on June 16 on the website https://forms.gle/Fvkd1BgM3TisoW577

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