• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 8:32pm
NewsHong Kong
PRESS FREEDOM

Journalists slam move to hide directors' data from public

Proposal to let company directors protect personal details from prying eyes for just HK$55 is condemned for killing free media

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 4:32am
 

Proposed changes to hide company directors and secretaries' personal details - home addresses and full ID numbers - from the public are an affront to press freedom, the city's journalist groups said yesterday.

The changes to the Companies Registry, slated to start early next year, will also allow currently publicly available personal details to be removed for just HK$55, hampering scrutiny of those in positions of power, the proposal's critics said.

The proposed changes by the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau - recently added to the rewrite of the Companies Ordinance - follow a series of investigative reports into Chinese officials' hidden wealth by major news organisations last year.

The proposal's supporters welcomed the changes, which they say protect personal data.

But the Hong Kong Journalists Association said that the changes were "unquestionably a retrogressive development".

"It does not just hurt the media, it damages the city's reputation of having a free flow of information," said association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting. "It is irresponsible and I … wonder why the government would do this."

A meeting Mak had last night with other groups including an alliance of journalism professors ended with the groups agreeing to launch a signature campaign against the amendments.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong also voiced its opposition, with its president Douglas Wong writing to call on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to withdraw the changes.

"Company searches are an important tool and source of information for investigative journalism and we regret that we were not invited to provide feedback on this change during a public consultation at the end of last year," Wong's letter said.

The move was contrary to what Leung said in a speech to club members last month, Wong said. "He talked about the values of the free media in Hong Kong," he said.

Meanwhile, Mike Wong Ming-wai, chief executive officer of the Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies which lobbied for the changes, said they were long overdue.

"It's about time, because this is the trend that people want to observe, not only with company directors," he said yesterday. "People are confused if they think the identity of directors are concealed, because they can still look at who is behind a company."

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data also welcomed the proposed changes as "personal data privacy will be enhanced by removing unrestricted public access". Instead of a home address, the new law would allow directors to list a "correspondence address", which must not be a post office box number.

If the proposal is pushed through, only a select few - such as company members, a liquidator, trustee, or public body - will be able to view the information. Insurance brokers, a clearing house or investor compensation company can also ask for access.

The public can request to view the information as well - but only with written permission from the person whose private data they are seeking.

Last June, Bloomberg published a wide-ranging expose on the expansive wealth accumulated in recent years by the relatives of incoming president Xi Jinping . In October, The New York Times reported the billions held by family members of Premier Wen Jiabao . Both reports were based largely on publicly available documents and financial records.

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7

This article is now closed to comments

wwong888
i guess xi jin ping is trying to avoid a ny times expose after he is done looting over the next 10 years... so better start covering up his tracks now... it is so flagrant and obvious... just pathetic
donniemcm
In a certain extent those company don't want to have gossips on them.
But it's necessary for transparency that people know about parties involved in a business. Main point of doing business is for getting wealthy. If you don't want attention to your wealthiness then do charity and live somewhere common instead of letting people know you are living in a 150M hkd house with 5 cars as expensive as the house.
jandajel
People involved with public companies should have no expectation of privacy. Those who want to play the game should be willing to pay the price of admission.
ianson
Hiding this information makes corruption somewhat easier to conceal. That's a very serious retrograde step. And isn't it a fair price to pay, to give up a little privacy for the right to run a business?
CatInAFlap
Keep hammering those nails in HK-Lover.
HK-Lover
The question is, for what reason does the public need to have access to private data (address, ID card no. etc.) of company directors of private companies in the first place. It should be made accessible only if you can prove a reasonable need e.g. in cases of litigation.
Can the HK Journalist Association please advise where we can search for journalists private addresses and ID card numbers.
CatInAFlap
Another nail in Hong Kong's coffin.

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