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HKU council controversy

Row at University of Hong Kong a reminder that confidentiality rules must be respected

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 2:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 2:09am

The controversy surrounding the University of Hong Kong has escalated into what resembles a Hollywood surveillance movie. Following the disclosure by a student leader of the closed-door discussions on the would-be appointment of Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro-vice-chancellor, voice recordings of the university council meeting were leaked and broadcast on a radio station. The university swiftly sought an interim court order to ban the material from being disseminated. The leak was also reported to the police for investigation.

The two clips aired by Commercial Radio contained comments believed to be made by council members Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and Leonie Ki Man-fung. Ki later issued a statement criticising the surreptitious recording and the leak, while Chan said the remarks by Ki were libellous and he reserved the right to take action against her.

The university's legal action has aroused concerns about press freedom. But it remains a fact that the council's operation has been compromised. It is unacceptable for anyone to record or divulge what individual members say behind closed doors. How the broadcaster obtained the recordings remains unclear. But they lent support to the earlier claims by the university's student union president, Billy Fung Jing-en. Upset by the council's decision to reject Chan's nomination, Fung, himself a council member, held a press conference to divulge what individual members had said about Chan during the meeting.

Those opposing the council's decision have sought to defend the leaks, including the use of the public-interest argument. It is intriguing that the recordings only came weeks after Fung had disclosed the details. With speculation growing that Li may soon be named the next council chairman, association of the leaks with his new position seems inevitable.

Whatever the motive, the disclosure has violated the confidentiality rule of the university's governing body. The breach of trust may also deter aspirants from joining the council and speaking their minds freely.