The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said on Thursday that it’s sad and absurd that the city has reached a point where journalists conducting normal reporting duties face lawsuits and suppression.
Putting on a united front in a press conference on Thursday, the HKJA and several press groups protested against the prosecution of Bao Choy, an RTHK producer of TV programmes that probed alleged police misconduct during the Yuen Long mob attack in July last year. She’s been charged with making false statements under the Road Traffic Ordinance in relation to car plate searches.
HKJA chairman Chris Yeung said when individual reporters or media organisations are subject to lawsuits, it would put them under great financial and psychological pressure, which could also amount to political suppression.
“We hope that [this] won't become a trend, a very unhealthy, damaging trend, for people to make use of their power and resources to suppress media organisations, [in] particular those that they don't agree with," he said.
Yeung said the HKJA has sought legal views over the matter, but has not decided whether it would launch a judicial review against limitations to search the Transport Department's car plate database.
In the past journalists who conducted searches could indicate their purpose as "other", but that category was changed last year to "other traffic and transport related matters".
The Next Media Trade Union challenged claims by the authorities that the case had to do with doxxing in relation to a privacy complaint.
Union spokesman Alex Lam said journalists are not asking for any special privilege, and that getting information available in the public domain through searches is a fact-checking exercise that's open to anyone.
An investigative journalist himself, Lam said the media have been very careful about releasing personal data obtained through searches. He said data is published only when there's a public interest.
“It's anything but doxxing what we do with this data. I think when the government is trying to confuse the issue of journalists using public records for investigation with doxxing, it's just an excuse to impose a disproportionate ban on access to public records," he said.
The RTHK Programme Staff Union described Choy's arrest at her home on Tuesday as high profile and disproportionate, saying traffic-related offences would normally only result in a summons.
Union chair Gladys Chiu also said that RTHK management has been positive about offering help to Choy over her case.