The importance of a free media was raised in the High Court yesterday when ATV asked the court to ban press coverage of an upcoming appeal case.
That prompted the chief judge to ask whether the media should itself be represented in court, to give its opinion on ATV's request. The broadcaster wants a media ban to block publication of information contained in a damning draft report on its management, produced by the Communications Authority.
Speaking in the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung called freedom of the press a "core value" of Hong Kong, and mused about whether the Secretary for Justice should represent the media in court, to protect that fundamental right in the ATV case.
"In the UK, the press takes a very strong view in this type of case, where the freedom of the press is at stake," Cheung said. "They are represented in court, all the way to the highest court."
ATV must persuade the court that this case involves exceptional circumstances that warrant a departure from the general rule of open justice, the court heard.
The appeal was lodged last year by the Communications Authority in reaction to ATV winning a judicial review, blocking the release of the draft report.
The document - part of which is cited in ATV's court documents - condemned ATV investor Wong Ching and found its executive director James Shing Pan-yu unfit to hold a broadcast licence.
ATV wants the appeal held in private to exclude publicity and prevent what it calls a "trial by the media".
The Communications Authority says the final version of the report will not be published until ATV's full reply to it is taken into account. But ATV argues it cannot reply until it is told the identities of five informants, which the authority refuses to do.
Benjamin Yu SC, for ATV, noted that the probe into ATV's operation was still ongoing. If the appeal is not closed, media-generated publicity may pressure the authority's investigation towards certain conclusions.
Anderson Chow Ka-ming SC, for the authority, said there was no basis to believe that the authority would be swayed by media reporting. The authority should have the right to open justice, he said.
Cheung and Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon will hand down their written judgment at a later date.