The Buildings Department has rejected suggestions it was “constraining” the media, in denying a reporter access to the records of a building involved in a recent deadly blaze.
It said if it had known the reporter’s request was related to the fire at an old tenement block in Jordan on November 15, it would have granted access on public interest grounds.
Eight people died in the fire at the building in Jordan, while more than a dozen were injured.
i-Cable news reported on Saturday that it visited the Buildings Department’s Building Information Centre a day after the blaze, to find out whether the fire could have been related to the building’s construction, and look into whether there was any unauthorised works at the site.
In the declaration section of an application form requesting access to the building’s records, the reporter wrote the information would be used for “news” purposes.
However, they were told this was not a “normal purpose” for using the information, and the request would need to be passed onto management staff. The broadcaster reports that a week later, they were told their request had been rejected.
The i-Cable news report quoted the chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Chris Yeung, as saying the building records are of public interest and it was clear the information would serve a news purpose.
He described it as interference, and accused the government of trying to narrow access to information of public interest ever since last year’s anti-government protests.
Following the publication of the i-Cable news report, the Buildings Department said the declaration on the application form covered a “considerably broad scope and will not constitute a constraint on news reporting in general”.
It said if it had been informed that the application to inspect the building’s records was related to the November 15 fire, the requested information would have been provided “in view of public interest”.
The department said it would contact the reporter as soon as possible to follow up with their application.