Magazines breached TV artists' privacy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am

The privacy watchdog has slapped enforcement notices on two magazines for infringing the privacy of three artists by secretly snapping and then publishing pictures of their private activities last year, including showing an actor in the nude.

Sudden Weekly and Face, both part of the Next Media group, were deemed to have collected the stars' personal information 'by unfair means', through using long lenses from as far as one kilometre away to take the photographs of the celebrities at home, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data reported.

It is the first time the watchdog has judged a media organisation to have infringed a celebrity's privacy by taking their pictures secretly. It called for the government to initiate a public discussion soon on laws concerning the balance between press freedom and personal privacy.

The report followed a high-profile complaint in June from TVB artists Bosco Wong Chung-chak, Yoyo Chen Chi-yiu and Vincent Wong Ho-shun to the PCPD. It did not name the victims, but the television station confirmed they were the artists featured in the report.

The entertainment magazines had argued it was of public interest to show Bosco Wong and his girlfriend Myolie Wu Hang-yee, and Vincent Wong and Chen, as both couples had denied living together.

Privacy commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang said the acts were unacceptable unless the information the magazines obtained was of great public interest.

'The reports sought only to satisfy the public's curiosity. This is completely different from public interest,' Chiang said.

The enforcement notices require the magazines to 'rectify the situation'. The commissioner has no prosecution power, but it is a criminal offence to ignore enforcement notices, carrying a penalty of up to two years in jail and a HK$50,000 fine.

The magazines have lodged an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Board. The notices will not come into force until a ruling is made.

In June, Sudden Weekly published photos of Bosco Wong walking naked around his home in Fo Tan, while Face ran intimate images of Vincent Wong and Chen at their home in Tseung Kwan O.

Chiang said he found the pictures of Bosco Wong had been taken with a long lens and a magnifier from a hillside that was one kilometre away. The photographers staked out their target from dusk until nighttime on three days in May and June.

Photos of the other couple were snapped from a footpath on a hill 10 metres away, Chiang said.

The magazines had breached a principle under the privacy ordinance that stated data users should collect personal information by fair and lawful means, he said.

It was also beyond the stars' 'reasonable expectation of privacy' to be photographed, as their homes were a good distance from other buildings.

The artists welcomed the judgment. 'It definitely has a positive effect on the relationship between artists and the media,' Bosco Wong said. 'There is now a guideline on what is acceptable and what is not. We don't have to be worried or close our curtains all the time any more.'

They had not decided whether to make any civil claims, as it was not their intention to make money out of the complaints, he said.

In 2004, the Law Reform Commission proposed creating an independent regulator to deal with privacy infringement by the print media.

Mak Yin-ting of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association said the proposal put too much stress on privacy and did not offer enough protection to the media. She said press freedom could be jeopardised.

A spokeswoman for Sudden Weekly said it would take 'further legal action'. Face had not responded by the time the Post went to press.


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