'Privacy law will breed corruption' warns journalists' union

Journalists' union launches ad campaign against new rules to hide details of company directors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 5:41am

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) today steps up its campaign to stop a change in the law that will restrict information on company directors available to the public.

It has taken out a full-page advertisement in the South China Morning Post and similar ads in other newspapers warning "secrecy breeds corruption" and listing the names of the 1,700 media workers and students who have signed a petition against the new restrictions - a record-breaking number for the union.

The move came after the government said yesterday it was consulting the Privacy Commission over its proposed change to the Companies Ordinance.

The HKJA says in its ad: "Freedom of the press and free flow of information is a cornerstone of Hong Kong's success." With the new law in place, "the ability of the media to disclose any illegal or unethical activity will be restricted, resulting in an infringement of the public interest".

It adds: "Allowing the public, including journalists, to examine the personal data of a director has long been a sound common practice, which has not been abused."

The HKJA also cites examples of how information found in the Companies Registry played a vital role in investigative journalism last year, to the detriment of some members of the administration and Executive Council.

HKJA chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said yesterday: "In future, when none of this information can be accessed, [journalists] will not be able to initiate investigations, or monitor whether powerful figures or officials are acting in their own interests.

"They can only go on what information the government chooses to give out."

In a statement yesterday, the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau insisted the plan to alter the Companies Ordinance was "in response to views gathered in public consultations".

The bureau stressed it had already reached consensus with the Legislative Council over the amendment to restrict access to some data, and full disclosure of information about directors would still be available to some people, such as public officers, fellow directors and liquidators.

"We are consulting the Privacy Commission to study ways to draft the subsidiary legislation, with a view to striking a reasonable balance between satisfying the need for the public to obtain information, and protecting the privacy of over one million directors, past and present," it added.

"We will also meet with media representatives to exchange views," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Confederation of Trade Unions chief executive Mung Siu-tat is also objecting to the change, saying it would prevent employees from finding out information about "unscrupulous employers".