Former RTHK journalist Bao Choy has won her appeal against a conviction related to a documentary on the Yuen Long attack in 2019.
Choy was fined HK$6,000 in 2021 after being found guilty of making false statements to obtain vehicle ownership records as part of a search for the perpetrators of the violence.
In her application to access a public licence plate database, the producer declared that her search fell under the category of "other traffic and transport related matters" – one of three options people could choose from, the others being "legal proceedings" and "sale and purchase of vehicle".
Two lower courts found that Choy's declaration was false.
But on Monday the Court of Final Appeal ruled that Choy's use of the database did indeed fall within the category she selected, and "even if it did not, it was not an irresistible inference that she knew that to be false".
"Whilst such rights are not absolute and may be restricted where necessary, there is no reason to proceed from a starting point that bona fide journalism should be excluded from the phrase 'other traffic and transport related matters', the court's judgement said.
"The fact that the appellant was exercising her freedom of speech and of the press in connection with investigating the events of 21 July 2019 should be taken into consideration," it added.
Choy welcomed the win after a fight of more than two years to clear her name and ascertain journalists' right to make use of the vehicle database for their work.
"Happy! I could not think of another word that can describe my mood right now, and I kind of think that this kind of happiness belongs to everyone in the society, not just me individually," she said.
Both the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the News Executives' Association (NEA) welcomed the judgement.
The HKJA said journalists pursuing the truth should not be prosecuted while the NEA called on the government to issue clearer guidelines on accessing public databases to help facilitate news reporting.
Last updated: 2023-06-05 HKT 15:50